Shutting down the FAA: Who's to blame?

Aug 04, 2011

"Lawmakers allowed funding for the FAA to expire July 23, leaving 4,000 agency workers on furlough and 70,000 people in construction-related jobs out of work, possibly until September, when Congress will reconvene."

Who is responsible for this shutdown affecting thousands of Americans? Post reporter Ashley Halsey III will answer reader questions about the FAA shutdown, including why it's happening, if one political party is to blame, how long it could last and what the affects on our national economy might be.

Related: Democrats, Republicans blame each other for FAA shutdown; no end in sight

On July 23 funding authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration expired, leading to the furlough of 4,000 FAA employees and stop-work orders for about 70,000 people in construction-related jobs. Since then, the congressional stalemate that allowed funding to expire has continued, and it my last until Congress returns from summer vacation after Labor Day.

Why did the Senate refuse to pass or introduce their own similar short-term extension as the House did on July 20?

That's a good question for which I don't have a ready answer. My best guess is that they expected an unencumbered extension, I don't know why they waited as long as they did to react to the House-passed version.

Why has Sen. Reid (D-NV) made such an issue over the EAS cuts when Sen. (and former House Representative of Ely, NV) Heller (R-NV) and Rep. Pearce (R-MT) , who represents Glendive, MT, have not? Surely if the demand to cut the ONLY airports from which per-ticket EAS subsidization rates exceeded $1000 were that unacceptable they too would have raised as big of a fuss as Sen. Reid has in shutting down the FAA.

I'm not sure that Sen. Reid has made EAS the issue. I'm told that earlier this week he was willing to have the Senate approve the House extension but faced resistence from other senators. Those senators seem more upset by the fact that the House put EAS provisions in an extension bill than they are about the provisions per se.

Good afternoon. I'm wondering why you didn't mention in your article the short term deal that was reached to end the stalemate and the fact that Orrin Hatch blocked it yesterday.

Orrin Hatch has objected, and thereby blocked, the effort of Senate Democrats to pass by unanimous consent an FAA extension more than once since this began.

Don't you think the Dems are responsible for this current shutdown? Since the union vote is not included in the continuing resolution (at least as I understand the report in the WP), then the sticking point is three small airports - and only for the duration of this continuing resolution.. Surely closing them would be far cheaper and less disruptive than what we have now?

That's certainly the perspective of the Republicans. The Democrats are more upset with Republican tactics than they are with the EAS provisions. They see putting them in the extension bill as a provocative affront.

What is the correct number of construction workers laid off? As reported by CNN: George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller, whose 3-year-old study was used by others to arrive at the 70,000 figure, said the estimate includes everything from actual construction workers, who were laid off, to drug store clerks and restaurant waitresses, who might see "a tiny bit less revenue flow." The true number of laid-off construction workers is probably one-third of that figure, Fuller told CNN.

The answer is between 30,000 and 40,000 actual construction workers. The balance of the estimated 70,000 are construction industry support people. That's why we've used the phrase "70,000 construction-related" workers.

Is this really over $1,000+ ticket subsidies? I heard it was union rights.

Check out our recent stories on this. The ticket subsidy program is a minor issue that is of importance to some members of Congress and to the people whose airports get that service (that's what EAS is: Essential Air Service). The bigger issue, however, is the union issue.

Wait, you mean REPUBLICANS blocked the House bill in the Senate?


Exactly which airports would lose essential air service funds in the short-term house bill?

There are 13. The Senate is in agreement on 10 of them that are within 90 miles of another airport. The three others are in Ely, Nevada; Alamogordo/Holloman air force base in New Mexico; and Glendive, Montana.

In addition to the 4,000 FAA workers and 70,000 construction jobs there are also 1,000s of surveyors, environmental engineers, airport engineers, inspectors and aviation planners at professional services firms across the country that have their jobs at risk. These professional services firms have already been decimated by lack of funding for other critical infrastructure such as highways and roads. This is another example of the politicians being "out of touch" with american workers. The total jobs at risk is likely much higher than reported. 100,000 is probably closer to the truth. If the FAA doesnt get back to work this week, will there be time for construction projects to actually move forward. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30th. That means that if Congress reconvenes Sept. 6th and immediately puts FAA back to work, that they would only have 2-3 weeks to issue every grant in the US and have those grants returned by Airport Sponsors, who represent the airports, then report them to FAA HQ for the purposes of closing the books for the fiscal year. This is a near impossible timeline or so it would seem, correct?

The longer this continues the more difficult it will be to put things right.

So what you're saying is that the Democrats are willing to cost the Govt. over $1bill because their feelings are hurt? That's not going to win any votes and I'm considered a liberal.

The politics of this are really thick and complicated. What's more, confusion is being sown as each side presents its point of view. The Senate objects to the House tactics. The House objects to what it considers the pace of negotiations on the long-term spending bill. The Senate points to the fact that the House hasn't appointed a conference committee to formalize negotiations. The House says staff members and informal conversations between House and Senate members have resolved many issues.

I think your "construction related" layoffs is misleading. The approximately 20,000 - 30,000 construction workers is real. I don't think a Baker down the street who loses business on a couple of doughnuts constitutes a layoff. Still too many but why does LaHood insist on promulgating a lie by saying "70,000 construction workers"

The baker down the street? Where did you come up with that notion? And then use it to accuse LaHood of lying? Baker down the street?

Is there some way for the FAA to retroactively recoup the lost revenues that most of the airlines are pocketing as profits, preferably with interest (and penalty)?

I don't know for certain. Secretary LaHood has hinted at that possibility, but I think he's more hopeful than certain. It seems to me to be a long shot, particularly as some airlines aren't collecting the money that would have gone for taxes.

It seems to me that blame falls squarely with those politicians who have unilaterally changed the rules of the game. There didn't used to be a standing filibuster on virtually every piece of legislation. There didn't used to be holds placed on every presidential nominee. There didn't used to be this attitude that compromise and reconciliation were anathema. There's a new ideology in Washington that is relentlessly impeding the government's ability to effectively function.

You are not the first person to make that argument. I don't know how new it is, however. I was speaking with former House Minority Leader Bob Michel a few months ago, and he seemed to think that new thinking already was afoot when he left office in 1995.

What are the union changes the Republicans want?

from our Sunday story:


that Republicans were pushing it in support of anti-union efforts by Delta Air Lines.

At issue is a National Mediation Board rule that mandates that airline unionization efforts be decided by a majority of those who vote, negating a long-standing rule that said eligible voters who cast no ballot would be counted as voting against unionization.

The House long-term funding bill would reverse that ruling.

I'm still confused about what Orrin Hatch did. Who's being unreasonable here and throwing the employees under the bus while they go off on vacation? Republicans? Democrats? Both? Neither?

There are very strong partisan differences over the labor provisions that apply to efforts to organize airline unions. I guess the party you blame is the party whose position on that issue you disagree with.

Head counts forgets the steel workers who can't make steel; the drivers and transportation people who can't deliver the steel, the concrete truckers losing their contract etc. There's a myriad of people behind the guys you see actualy laying the runways.

Yes, it's not the donut baker down the street.

Read the source of the study. The amount of estimated construction workers laid off is about 25,000. The other 45,000 are people impacted like the Baker and the Candlestick Maker. Please investigate your sources and get the facts straight. This is an important story but all the news sources quoting inaccurate numbers detracts from the issues. What is your source for the 70,000 lost jobs?

The building construction people. You seem to have a political agenda behind these questions. What is it?

Will this 70,000 number be reflected in the quarter's unemployment rate calculation?

I'm not a labor writer, but my guess is that the numbers that will have to relect the furloughs have not come out yet.

Has Harry Reid brought up and allowed the US Senate to vote on the House bill in a straight up-or-down vote? If not, why not? Is he afraid it might actually pass the US Senate and end this mess? Seems to me Harry Reid is to blame for dragging this out in the hopes of gaining a political issue....

I believe he wanted to a couple of days ago but members of his party who are upset with the House tactics objected.

Well, those airlines shouldn't be penalized for passing along the savings to their passengers. My beef is with the others, the ones that unfairly profiteered from the current situation.

It's the sort of issue that Congress would tackle with hearings, but I'd be surprised if they rush to call the airlines to task under the circumstances.

I'm still not getting a clear answer on Orrin Hatch's objection in the Senate. Were the Democratic Senators trying to pass the extension with some kind of modification, and that is what he objected to?

Rockefeller on two or three occasions moved for unaimous consent on an FAA extention without any other provisions. It just continued funding until September. No more, no less. If a single senator objects, the unaimous consent fails. Hatch objected.

OK, so there's two bills. The short term did NOT include the provision that would have made non-votes for unionization NO votes, yet still it was not passed because of the 3 airports. So the 3 airports are the reason for the shutdown. Right?

It's all very complicated, but you're in luck. I've been writing about this for a couple of weeks and if you read what I've written this week it will become clear to you.

Thanks very much to you all for tuning in. Given all the questions, we'll have to do this again.

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Ashley Halsey III
Ashley Halsey III is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
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