Last week, I was in Europe, trying to cope with my embarrassment at the spectacle in Congress as we flirted with disaster — a disaster that could have brought down the American economy, the European economy, the global economy, with a swath of lawmakers oblivious to the larger issues at work here, with an entirely manufactured crisis over the debt limit.
With Congress having sent a bill to the president, a lot of people inside and outside Washington will breathe a huge sigh of relief that the trauma is over.
Now get ready for the next set of “my way or the highway” showdowns which, in one destructive case, are already under way, with others due to hit the fan around Oct. 1. And prepare for a wave of partial government shutdowns that won’t threaten the global economy, but that will be immensely disruptive for lots of Americans and damaging to an economy still struggling to get out of its funk.
All with the same fundamental cast of characters, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) egged on and boxed in by his tea party activists and acolytes, the Republican Study Committee, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
Under the debt limit deal, we will have spending caps in place and real reduction in the areas under the purview of the appropriations process. That ought to make it easy to resolve differences in spending bills. But the confrontations are not about spending nor deficits.
The immediate example of “my way or the highway” confrontation and disruption, largely lost in the brouhaha over the debt limit, is the Federal Aviation Administration, which has not had an authorization in years (a sadly familiar failure of both parties) and was up for another short-term extension while the House and Senate worked out their differences under the regular order.
In this case, it was a high-handed maneuver by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who stuck it to the Senate by refusing to extend the short-term authorization for the FAA unless the Senate agreed to a set of demands that included cutting off subsidies for small airports in the states of key Senate Democrats such as Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Max Baucus (Mont.) — and saying that if Rockefeller and the Senate agreed to make it easy for FAA employees to decertify their union, he would relent.
The result has been a shutdown of major parts of the agency, dangerously retarding the development of a new and up-to-date air traffic control system and causing massive layoffs both of FAA employees and outside contractors.
Think this is about deficits and debt? In the meantime, the money that would be saved by eliminating subsidies for the small airports has been more than exceeded by the lost transportation taxes uncollected by the shuttered FAA. In other words, Mica’s middle finger to the Senate and the regular order has actually increased the deficit.