Senate Titans Trade Shots as FAA Shutdown Continues

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The 5-day-old shutdown at the Federal Aviation Administration continued Wednesday, as senators clashed over who’s to blame for the standoff.

FAA went into a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday after the law governing the agency expired. Both the House and Senate have a temporary extension of the law teed up, but a spat over a politically-charged bit of union politics continues to divide Republicans and Democrats while keeping most of FAA dark.

Democrat Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah), two of the most senior senators, traded barbs on the Senate floor Wednesday over the shutdown. The legislative dustup amounted to little, as 4,000 employees remain furloughed and billions of dollars in aviation construction projects are stalled.

In the immediate sense, the shutdown was caused when the House and Senate passed slightly different versions of a bill temporarily extending FAA’s authorization. The difference was a tiny House provision restricting small-airport subsidies to airports where carriers get more than a $1,000 federal payment per ticket. That’s a sum-total of three airports nationwide in the Essential Air Service program.

Senators wanted a “clean” temporary extension. But while the gambit from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica annoyed senators, it has little to do with the actual shutdown. That’s a full-blown fight over union organizing rules in the aviation and rail industries.

A long-term, full FAA authorization bill is stalled in House-Senate negotiations over a partisan disagreement about federal rules governing how workers can vote to unionize. Last year the National Mediation Board altered rules so that only a majority of workers voting would be needed to unionize a shop. Previously unions had to muster a majority of all workers.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Rockefeller blasted House Republicans for using the temporary authorization bill to gain leverage on the union rules fight in the bigger bill. He repeated his charge that the move was designed to protect non-union Delta Airlines, which is hoping to prevent workers from organizing.

“This is not policy it’s pettiness,” Rockefeller said.

Hatch was on hand to counter, saying that Democrats were defending “a big partisan favor done at the behest of Big Labor.”

Rockefeller and Hatch blocked each other’s attempts to pass the temporary FAA authorization bill through the Senate. The standoff continues.

Catch Rep. John Mica on The Takeaway Thursday morning. He'll be on live to discuss the FAA shutdown and the ongoing congressional fight over the federal debt limit.