Congress moved no closer to ending a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday, with frustrations boiling over from the White House to the Capitol and the majority of lawmakers away on August recess.
The finger-pointing — by Senate Democrats, House Republicans and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — played out like a bizarre epilogue to a months-long, sometimes vitriolic debate over extending the nation’s debt ceiling. At a news conference Wednesday, Senate Democrats bemoaned being “held hostage” by House Republicans in the standoff over extending the FAA’s authorization, which expired July 22.
The Democrats accused House Republicans of promoting special interests over nearly 4,000 furloughed FAA employees, and the media availability ended awkwardly after a television reporter asked a series of pointed questions as to why the Senate wouldn’t simply pass a bill that has already made its way through the House.
“It’s as if someone puts a gun to your head and says, ‘Give me your money,’ and then you say, ‘Why won’t you give them their money?’ You leave out the whole context that there’s a gun being held to your head, and that is not fair and that is not right. And yet ... we keep getting that situation,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said shortly before all but one lawmaker stormed off stage.
The impasse has resulted in a nearly two-week partial shutdown that has also halted about 70,000 construction jobs across the country. It centers on a House-passed, multiyear reauthorization that would make it harder for airline and railroad workers to unionize, a nonstarter for Senate Democrats. Just two days before the current authorization's expiration, the House passed another extension that would last only through Sept. 16. It left out the union language, but included $16.5 million in cuts to a rural air service program that would fall heavily on Nevada, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).
Republicans say that they've sent a reasonable bill to the Senate and that Democrats, who are seeking a "clean" extension, are the ones perpetuating the shutdown.
If no extension is passed until Congress returns in September, the government could lose up to $1 billion in uncollected airline ticket taxes, according to the Transportation Department.
From the White House briefing room Wednesday, LaHood called on Congress to return to work and pass a clean extension. Both the House and Senate will have multiple pro forma sessions during the August recess, meaning they could approve the extension by unanimous consent during the recess, send it to President Barack Obama’s desk and end the standoff.