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Over the past week, the partial shutdown of the FAA has been massively overshadowed by the debt ceiling fight. If you needed better evidence for how maimed our nation's political situation has become, think about that: a major federal agency is mostly shut down for more than a week and it gets little attention because there's an internal danger facing our government and economy that so dramatically outweighs it.

Here's a rundown of what you may have missed and where things stand now. The short version is, the FAA will remain closed through August, because House Republicans declined to stay in session after voting on the debt deal. That came despite Senate Democrats, led by Jay Rockefeller, saying they would introduce a bill cutting the rural air subsidies that Republicans had allegedly wanted cut; even Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison decried her party's decision not to end the shutdown before recess.

Why wouldn't Republicans jump at Democrats agreeing to a cut they proposed, aside from wanting to get out of town? Because it was never about a $16.5 million cut, of course. This whole fight has always been about union rights for air workers. As Rockefeller wrote in a USA Today op-ed:

Unfortunately, the Republican House is holding the FAA hostage and using the EAS program to distract from its acknowledged goal: overturning a workers' rights rule that makes sense and has been upheld in court.

This ugly backroom deal is the work of Delta Air Lines' anti-worker allies in the House. They want to overturn a decision of the National Mediation Board that allows airline and railroad workers to organize with their votes counted the regular way—yes and no—rather than by counting people who don't participate at all in the election.

Delta lost in court, and so it lobbied the Republican House leadership for help. That now involves blocking critical FAA legislation and attacking the EAS program, which creates jobs and economic opportunity in small communities by giving business access to travel.

For that, Republicans are willing to keep the FAA closed. Air traffic controllers and other critical safety personnel remain on the job, but 4,000 FAA employees are furloughed and construction projects employing up to 70,000 people are shut down. Meanwhile, the federal government is losing $1.2 billion in ticket tax revenue; nor is that money staying with passengers, as airlines raised ticket prices to the rates they would have been with the taxes.

On a press call Monday before the House announced it would recess without addressing the FAA, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood insisted that safety would not be impacted. However, 40 safety inspectors are currently working without pay or reimbursement for their work-related travel. It's hard to imagine they will be able to continue doing that, or that there won't be other potential safety concerns over a shutdown of the length we're looking at. Additionally, with the now-halted construction projects facing time and weather constraints once they do restart, some needed safety upgrades to airports may not be completed this year.

All of this to prevent workers from having fair elections over whether to join unions and for the benefit of one company in particular.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Aug 02, 2011 at 09:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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