Lawrence O'Donnell draws a useful parallel between the debt ceiling battle and the FAA's partial shutdown: in both cases, we're watching something that was once routine become a battleground. In the case of the FAA, it's already wreaking economic havoc, with
nearly 4,000 workers furloughed
and construction projects halted across the country, putting in the neighborhood of 90,000 construction jobs
As I've said time and time again, the FAA battle is, at base, about union rights. But, since the media is falling for the "this is really about rural airport subsidies" line, let's examine that for a minute.
Failure to pass a short-term extension is because of the cuts to Essential Air Service (EAS), which subsidizes rural airports, that Republicans inserted into the short-term extension bill. They did this explicitly to put pressure on Democrats to accept the loss of union rights for airline workers. The pressure comes because the EAS cuts target airports in the home states of Harry Reid, Jay Rockefeller and Max Baucus—the Senate Majority Leader, the Chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and the Chair of the Finance Committee. So it's "buckle to our anti-union agenda or your rural constituents get it."
What we're talking about here is a politically motivated $16.5 million cut, which Republicans are framing as Democrats not wanting to cut a wasteful program. Cuts to EAS might in fact be a good idea, and that's a discussion we could have if the political motivation—both the targeting of Democratic senators and the anti-union part—wasn't so blatant. Meanwhile, the FAA is losing $30 million every day because it doesn't have the authority to collect taxes. That $30 million a day is money the Republicans want us to believe they are costing the government just in order to extract a $16.5 million cut. And the media is largely going along with that story, without questioning the wisdom of losing $30 million a day to cut $16.5 million once.
It's also money that airlines are pocketing, having raised fares by the amount of the taxes they're no longer collecting. Various politicians, including Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the guy who included the EAS cuts in the short-term extension, are telling the airlines to be good citizens and either pass along the savings to customers or the money to the government. But there's no muscle behind that.