President Obama speaks to the media about the status of an FAA authorization… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)
For the second straight day, President Obama pressured Congress to come back to Washington and resolve an ongoing stalemate that has put thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees on an abrupt, unpaid leave and left the agency unable to collect ticket fees to the tune of $200 million a week.
Congress adjourned this week after passage of the debt-ceiling bill, and is not expected to return until September. By that time, the loss of revenue from ticket fees could amount to $1 billion.
"That would be a billion dollars at a time when we’re worrying about how we pay for everything from education to Head Start," said Obama, who expressed hope that the issue might be resolved by week's end. "This is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved."
So far, it has not proven to be so easy.
After failing to pass an usually routine extension of the agency’s funding, congressional leaders have taken turns pointing fingers and lobbing insults.
The impasse centers around a small but contentious provision added to a bill that would have temporarily extended the agency’s funding while lawmakers hammer out the remaining details of a larger FAA authorization. Since 2007, the agency has operated under 20 separate extensions.
House Republicans, led by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), inserted a provision in the latest extension that would cut rural airport subsidies in the home states of key Senate leaders, as a way to exert pressure on Senate Democrats to make concessions on key provisions of the larger bill. Among the key points of contention are the rural airport subsidies and a labor provision that would change the rules under which air and rail employees can unionize.
The Senate has refused to take up the House-passed extension. The House has vowed they won't take up a clean extension without the rider.
Both sides seemed to dig in Wednesday.
In a news conference, Democrats lined up one by one to liken the Republican position to "hostage-taking."
"It's irresponsible to hold hostage these people and our country and the safety of our airways pending some petty political gain that might be reached," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said at a news conference with Senate Democratic leaders.
"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 your money?'" Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters. "That is not fair and that is not right."
Republican leaders denied that they were at fault for the ongoing crisis.
"The Senate has dragged its feet and played politics with tens of thousands of American jobs rather than passing the House bill or producing something of their own," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement.
Appearing at the White House media briefing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pleaded with congressional leaders to end the stalemate.
"Come back to Washington! Leave your vacations! Just for a couple hours, come back, Congress!" LaHood said. "We've heard a lot of great speeches from members of Congress about creating jobs…Their speeches ring hollow to 4,000 FAA employees who are furloughed."