August 4, 2011

Hello Gridlock, My Old Friend

Most folks point to the recent crisis over the debt ceiling as proof positive of Washington's political dysfunction. But if you want a more typical example of why Washington doesn't work, check out the shutdown of the FAA, a mess that is finally getting the attention it deserves now that the debt ceiling crisis has been put off for another year.

The Republicans have put a poison pill in an otherwise routine measure to extend funding for FAA (stop me if you have heard this before), and they are quite content to forfeit $1 billion in tax revenues over the next month while Congress is out of session, not to mention idling tens of thousands of workers who would normally be rebuilding our airports. All this to cut $16 million from the budget by eliminating air service to some remote airports, mostly in Democratically controlled territory. Meanwhile the airlines are laughing all the way to the bank as they pocket the now uncollectible taxes which were embedded in airline ticket prices.

The actual reason for this stalemate has to do with a  ruling from the National Mediation Board, an independent agency that oversees labor-management relations within the U.S. railroad and airline industries. Get this. Before the ruling, employees absent during a vote to unionize were counted as "no" votes. Under the new rules, they won't be counted at all ... because they weren't there. Damn! Sounds reasonable to me. You aren't there so you don't get included in the tally instead of the old system where your absence turned into a "no" vote.

Executives at Delta Airlines didn't see it that way. They leaned on their Republican buddies in the House to put a measure into the FAA budget extension that would have overturned the NMB ruling. Democrats balked, so Republicans countered with a new measure to eliminate funding to remote airports. Hello gridlock, my old friend.

You will hear the Republicans say that jobs are their priority and that it is the Democrats who are being the stubborn ones here. Uh-huh. This is what a key Republican, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had to say about this dispute last month, when not so many people were paying attention:
“It’s just a tool to try to motivate some action to get this resolved,” Mica says, adding that the NMB issue is being moved “at the highest leadership levels of the House and Senate and beyond my ability to resolve.” If the NMB provision were resolved, “the rest can fall into place within 20 minutes,” Mica says.
Remember, this effort by the Republicans to save $16 million will end up costing the government $1 billion in lost tax revenues. And a ton of jobs. All this at a time when the economy is one step away from life-support. Now think about this. A good economy helps Obama. A bad economy helps Republicans. You figure it out.

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