The U.S. Senate temporarily broke a deadlock between the House and the Senate on a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. The inability of the House and Senate to agree on the matter led to the furloughing of 4,000 federal employees and 70,000 construction workers, as well as the loss of millions of dollars in revenue from airline ticket taxes.
The extension runs through September 16, at which point the House and the Senate may fight over reauthorization again.
Here are the issues which caused the deadlock:
(1)Rural Flight Subsidies
The House GOP wanted to cut $16 million dollars in subsidies to 13 rural airports around the country. The House GOP portrayed it as a deficit cutting move, while Senate Democrats insisted that the GOP simply introduced this issue to gain leverage in negotiations on the main sticking point -- labor issues. The loss of revenue from ticket taxes in these few weeks of disagreement would exceed the cost to the government from rural subsidies.
(2)Labor: National Mediation Board
The real sticking point in the House-Senate conference on the FAA bill appears to be labor. The National Mediation Board is a government agency that regulates labor in the airline and railroad industries and provides guidelines for resolving labor disputes. Republicans want to maintain a rule providing for 51 percent of all employees to be able to vote and form a union. Democrats assert that only a majority of the people actually having the election should be necessary to form a union.
Both Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have called attention the the role of Delta Airlines in this fight. Delta and Northwest recently merged. Northwest has a union shop while Delta is a non-union shop. Isakson implied that Democrats were acting out of spite towards Delta's non-union policy, while Rockefeller suggested that House GOP members were allied with Delta and anti-union forces.
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who has been appointed one of the conferees between the House and the Senate on the FAA bill has suggested that the Republicans and Democrats could find common ground on the NMB by allowing judicial review of NMB decisions. Since we're not specialists in labor law, it's not clear what exactly this would entail. However, Isakson has noted that the National Labor Relations Act has a similar provision, and we think this could be a good starting point for the resumption of this battle in six weeks.