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Dems accuse GOP of "hostage-taking" in FAA spat

UPDATED 4:49 p.m. ET
Construction equipment sits idle at the work site of a half-completed 236-foot FAA control tower at Oakland International Airport, July 26, 2011, in Oakland, Calif. Getty

Democrats and the Obama administration on Wednesday stepped up pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to come to an agreement to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, accusing House Republicans of "government by hostage-taking."

Days after coming to a deal to avert the first ever U.S. default, lawmakers were unable to come to deal to temporarily fund the FAA. And that left tens of thousands of workers without a paycheck.

"Unfortunately, Republicans continue to practice the politics of confrontation and hostage-taking. And it is severely damaging our economy and the livelihoods of people across our nation," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives.


The partial shutdown of the FAA, which began on July 23, is now expected to last until at least early September, when the House of Representatives and the Senate return to Washington. And that could cost the government more than $1 billion in lost revenue from uncollected airline ticket taxes.

"This is a made-up crisis. This is government by hostage-taking ," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.

President Obama called it a "lose-lose-lose situation" that could easily be solved with a procedural agreement.

Mr. Obama struck a softer tone than the others, emphasizing the lost revenue from uncollected fees.

"The airlines are still collecting these fees because it's priced into their tickets, but they're not turning them over to the federal government, and the federal government stands to lose $200 million a week. That would be a billion dollars at a time when we're worrying about how we pay for everything from education to Head Start. And we don't anticipate it's going to be easy to get that money back. Even though the airlines are collecting it, they're keeping it," Mr. Obama said.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the only Republican in President Obama's cabinet and a former House Republican, called on Congress to "take a little detour from their own vacation, come back to Washington, and pass" a simple extension to the existing budget authorization. Congress has done that simple extension, with no strings attached, 20 times in the past four years.

LaHood, who came to the regularly scheduled White House briefing with Mr. Obama's spokesman, stressed that the government can "continue to guarantee that safety will never be compromised."


"We have the safest aviation system in the world," LaHood said, "I can say without equivocation, safety will never be compromised, flying is safe, and passenger schedules should not be compromised by this issue."

There are about 4,000 agency employees out of work who will lose their paycheck and tens of thousands government contractors who will not be paid. Air traffic controllers are still on the payroll.

The partial shutdown is the result of a dispute over rules surrounding the ability of transportation workers to organize unions.

Schumer said the union issue is a separate matter, comparing it to a robber who holds a gun to the victim's head.

"It's as if someone puts a gun to your head and says, "Give me your money," and then you say, "Why won't you give them their money?" You leave out the whole context that there's being a gun held to your head, and that is not fair and that is not right," Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner blamed Senate Democrats.

"The only reason 80,000 jobs are at stake is that Senate Democratic Leaders chose to play politics rather than keep their word and pass the House bill. That's indefensible, and they should end this crisis immediately," said spokesman Michael Steel.

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