Alana’s post about the Democratic spin on extending FAA funding – that Republicans are “holding it hostage” – is simply surreal. It’s surreal not just on its face, inasmuch as House Republicans have sent two different reauthorization bills to the Senate only to have them both rejected. There’s an even more fundamental hypocrisy that, set against the endless Keynesian lectures from the political and intellectual left, is almost impressive in its sheer brazenness.
There are two overarching impacts to the partial FAA shutdown. First, the government has lost more than one billion dollars in ticket taxes, and is set to lose more. Second, tens of thousands of construction jobs have been suspended (23,000 to 80,000 depending on whose number you use). The shutdown means, then, the government has been forgoing budgetary revenue and infrastructure expenditures for two weeks. You’ll recall those as the two elements that we’ve been told – endlessly, without pause – are the fundamental pillars of responsible fiscal policy.
It’s interesting to inquire, then, what could be so important Senate Democrats would reject no less than two funding bills from the House?
The original sticking point had to do with GOP objections to a union-boosting decision by the National Mediation Board. The NMB plays the role of the NLRB for airlines and trains, setting the terms for union elections. For 75 years NMB rules stipulated that employees could unionize only if a majority of all company employees – not a majority of employees who actually voted – punched their cards in favor. That prevented small groups of pro-union partisans from holding badly publicized rush elections, and it also quelled any union enthusiasts who might be inclined to “encourage” known opponents to stay home on voting day. Protections are especially important because airline unionization is a one-way street, with no provision for decertification.
Then in 2010, the NMB flipped the rule on a unilateral 2-1 board decision.
The entire sordid affair is covered in the context of the White House’s Congress-circumventing power grabs in Democracy Denied, the upcoming book by Americans for Prosperity VP Phil Kerpen. There was an outcry from within the NMB itself, with a figure no less central than NMB Chairman Elizabeth Dougherty blasting it. Senate Republicans tried to overturn the decision and failed. Then last April, FAA reauthorization landed on the desk of Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Mica took the opportunity to insert language overturning the NMB decision and sent the funding authorization to the Senate. Democrats promptly rejected the bill, holding the FAA hostage on behalf of unions. As the deadline neared, the Republicans gave in. Mica dropped the NMB provision and sent over a short-term authorization bill.
That second bill, however, included language defunding subsidies received by 13 rural airports under the Essential Air Service, a program that shovels money to airports with too few passengers to be otherwise sustainable. Some of the targeted airports, to be sure, were in the states of Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Max Baucus, and Jay Rockefeller. That’s their bad luck for funneling money home using a program that even lefty TIME blogger Michael Grunwald branded as “embarrassing… environmentally destructive and economically ridiculous,” and that travel blog View From The Wing described as so wasteful “it really can’t be made more effective.” It’s pure pork.
Mica bet Democrats would have to swallow the cuts, because who would try to shut down the FAA over funding for empty airports? Interesting question.
Reid initially caved, gamely admitting while he does his “best to protect the state… sometimes you have to be reasonable.” Not so much with Rockefeller, who as the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has primary jurisdiction. He held out until Reid had to reverse himself out of party solidarity. The senator from Nevada is now back to incoherently blaming the GOP for the impasse, to the point where he’s demagoguing the union provision that isn’t even in the extension any more.
So to recap the Democrats’ budget philosophy: revenue and jobs are important–but not as important as pork spending and union power.