Congressional squabbling hurts FAA

The number of people laid off this week because of the congressional wrangling over fiscal issues keeps growing. As we've been reporting, the Federal Aviation Administration has been forced into partial shutdown by the argument. CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson has an update.

A $31 million air traffic control tower at Oakland International Airport has been halted in mid-construction, idling workers like Greg Talmage.

And at FAA headquarters, there are empty offices of nearly 1,000 furloughed workers.

It's all because Congress can't agree on a new $16 billion a year funding bill for the FAA. The old one expired Friday.

That hits every big weak spot in the economy. Around 70,000 construction workers and nearly 3,500 FAA employees have been furloughed. About 150 airport construction projects have been stalled. And $200 million per week in ticket taxes are lost because the FAA has no authority to collect them.

There are two main sticking points. Democrats want to make it easier for airline and railroad workers to unionize; Republicans don't.

And Republicans want cuts in so-called "essential air service." That program pays $163 million in federal subsidies for airlines to fly on little-used routes that might otherwise shut down.

In a CBS News investigation, we took one government subsidized flight from Washington to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. We found just four passengers on board and the plane went on to West Virginia empty.

Today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged Congress to solve their disputes.

"And for all of my friends on Capitol Hill who give speeches every day about jobs, the importance of jobs, putting people to work -- this is not the time to be laying off 70,000 construction workers," said LaHood.

All this doesn't affect air traffic controllers, flights or safety. But it foreshadows choices other government agencies may have to make if Congress can't solve the debt and deficit.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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