Democrats accuse Republicans of ‘hostage-taking’ in FAA shutdown

Senate Democrats and House Republicans continued to snipe at each other today over the nearly two-week-long shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, which will now stretch into September unless Congress takes special action.

The FAA shut down on July 23rd when the Senate blocked a temporary funding bill passed by the House. The Senate objected to cuts in the Essential Air Service program, which provides federal subsidies to rural airports.

The House and Senate went into recess this week, but both sides, including President Obama, are banking on a resolution to be reached by the end of the week. In the interim, Republicans have accused senators of blocking the bill to protect political pork in their states, while Democrats accuse Republicans of refusing to negotiate.

In a press conference Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, flanked by fellow Senate Democrats Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, and Jay Rockefeller, as well as Rep. Steny Hoyer, repeatedly accused Republicans of what Boxer called “government by hostage-taking.”

Democrats used the “hostage” analogy no less than eight times in the press conference.

Sen. Reid decried the shutdown, which he said was brought on by Republicans refusing to negotiate, and called on House Speaker John Boehner to “stop this nonsense.”

Since the shutdown, 4,000 FAA employees have been furloughed and around 200 airport construction projects have been halted, affecting somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 construction jobs. The federal government is also losing about $30 million per week in airline tax revenue. (RELATED: ‘Hostage’ metaphor is liberal commentators’ new favorite talking point)

Critical FAA staff, including air traffic controllers and safety inspectors, have remained on the job, but they are paying out of pocket for travel expenses.

“We have inspectors paying for their own hotel bills and airplane tickets,” Reid said. “These men and women are now being asked to spend their own money to do their jobs. This is one of the most outrageous things I can comprehend.”

Reid’s statements conflicted with earlier indications that the Senate might approve the House version. When asked Tuesday if he would accept the House version at the end of the day, including cuts to EAS, Reid replied, “Yes.”

“I do my best to protect the state, but sometimes you have to be reasonable,” Reid said. “I think, as we learned with this big deal we’ve just done, sometimes you have to step back and find out what’s best for the country and not be bound by some of your own personal issues. And I’m willing to give that up. I hope the other senators would do the same.”

Republicans have likewise accused the Democrats of stonewalling.

“All it will take to end this crisis is for the Senate to pass the House-approved FAA extension,” Boehner said. “The only reason so many jobs are at stake is Senate Democratic Leaders chose to play politics rather than pass the House bill. I respect the fact that Senators have certain objections, but they have had two weeks to respond to the House bill and done nothing, leaving tens of thousands of workers in limbo. The House has done its job, and now it’s time for Senators to do theirs.”

Republican House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica echoed Boehner’s comments.

“Senate Democrats had a House-passed FAA extension before them for two weeks but chose to do nothing,” Mica said. “Instead of passing this simple bill, Senate Democrats chose to protect outrageous ticket subsidies, as much as $3,720 per ticket in Ely, Nevada, on the backs of 4,000 furloughed FAA employees and thousands more out-of-work airport construction workers.”

The last long-term appropriations bill for the FAA expired in 2007. The agency has operated on temporary funding extensions since then.