The debt-ceiling crisis has knocked off the front pages another government situation that is equally as messed up and mirrors the broader stalemate in Washington. The Federal Aviation Administration has been in partial shutdown for more than a week after lawmakers failed to extend its funding. That leaves 4,000 federal employees on furlough and puts hundreds of airport construction and maintenance projects on hold. It's becoming a familiar refrain: lawmakers seem unable to compromise. The FAA conversation began with questions about whether it was appropriate to cut back rural airport subsidies on a stopgap funding measure, but it has blown up into a full-fledged public war about why the broader FAA reauthorization hasn't been completed after four years.
Here are the outstanding issues, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood:
1) Republicans and Democrats have polar opposite opinions about last year's National Mediation Board decision that counts non-voters as no's in rail and aviation union elections. Republicans say NMB overstepped its bounds. Democrats say NMB simply brought union elections into line with all other elections. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who wants to reverse the NMB decision, thinks there is potential for a compromise. Supporters of the NMB rule wonder what he's smoking. President Obama has threatened to veto the FAA reauthorization bill if the NMB ruling is reversed.
2) Rural airport subsidies cost the U.S. taxpayer $200 million last year. Republicans and Democrats both want to scale back on the "Essential Air Services" program, although Mica has gone a bit further in proposed cuts than the Senate Democrats. Mica has conceded that his initial idea to phase out the program won't fly in the Senate (pun intended). But he also is insisting that lawmakers agree to cutbacks now, as part of a stopgap funding measure, rather than in a conference committee. It's not helping the friendliness factor inside the Capitol.
Is there a way out of this mess? How is the partial shutdown affecting airports and airlines across the country? Will the real impact on families and communities convince lawmakers to sit down and haggle? Can the NMB standoff be resolved? What is a fair compromise on Essential Air Services?