Recess turns into fight over FAA
Updated with statement from Cardin
A day after Congress settled the longstanding debate over the nation’s debt ceiling, Maryland lawmakers are reacting to the next crisis caused by partisan gridlock: The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has caused thousands of employees to be furloughed.
In a testy press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Rep. Steny Hoyer blasted House Republicans for the impasse, arguing that both the House and Senate could approve legislation to temporarily extend FAA funding, even though most lawmakers have left Washington for the summer recess.
“It will cost more than $200 million per week. It has already cost us $360 million. This is from the party that is worried about fiscal responsibility,” said the Southern Maryland lawmaker, who is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House. “We need to get this done and we should get it done today.”
In a statement, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called the impasse "yet another attack on public-sector workers."
"Hardworking FAA employees are going without a paycheck and are at risk of losing their health care coverage. Some FAA inspectors are still on the job, but are putting official travel costs on their personal credit card," he said. "This is unacceptable."
The Republican-led House of Representatives passed an extension of FAA funding that would keep the agency running through Sept. 16, but Senate Democrats have balked at that proposal, which includes $14 million in cuts in federal subsidies for rural airports. Democrats and Republicans have also wrestled over the rules that dictate how airline workers may unionize.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner called on the Senate to pass the bill approved by the House. In a statement, he claimed Senate Democrats were playing politics with the issue.
“I respect the fact that senators have certain objections, but they have had two weeks to respond to the House bill and done nothing, leaving tens of thousands of workers in limbo,” Boehner said. “The House has done its job, and now it’s time for senators to do theirs.”
Budget authority for the agency ran out on July 23. The U.S. Department of Transportation says that some 4,000 FAA workers – and an additional 70,000 contract employees – have been furloughed. In Maryland, stop-work orders have been issued for six contracts, including work on a new radar system for Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
One of those contractors, Greenbelt, Md.-based Applied Integrated Technologies, has had to stop work on a $3.5 million contract in which they are helping to develop new air traffic control software. Tom Ockuly, the company’s chief operating officer, said there is concern the company may have to reduce its workforce if the impasse continues.
“We can probably hold out for a month, if they act quickly when they get back in September,” said Ockuly, whose company employs 100 people, most in Maryland.
Though Congress is in recess, both chambers technically continue to meet in “pro forma” sessions. That would allow legislative leaders to pass a short-term extension if no single lawmaker objected. Other options include calling members back to Washington once an agreement is reached, or allowing the furloughs to continue until Congress reconvenes next month.
Allowing the shutdown to continue for a month also means forgoing $1 billion in airline ticket tax revenue.
“I think it’s scandalous that we left – the Congress left – before resolving this issue,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, told MSNBC on Wednesday. “This is an example of where Congress totally failed.”
The outcome could also have an impact on Hagerstown Regional Airport, which is one of more than 100 airports that benefit from federal subsidies.
In a press conference Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged members of Congress to “end your vacation for a coupe of days…get off the beach” and end the standoff.