Democratic leaders blasted House Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans for taking 75,000 Federal Aviation Administration and construction workers "hostage" by refusing to pass a short-term extension to fund the FAA.
"We owe it to these workers to come together to reach a compromise," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said. "We owe it to every American taxpayer to reach a compromise. We need to get this done and we should get it done today."
The FAA has been partially shut down since July 22 when Congress-approved funding for the agency expired. Without funding, the FAA cannot collect airplane ticket taxes, resulting in a loss of about $30 million per day, or $360 million since the shutdown began. That number will jump to more than $1 billion if Congress does not pass an extension before returning from its August "district work" break in September.
President Obama urged Congress today to return to Washington and pass an FAA funding extension, saying it is another example of a "self-inflicted wound" on the American economy.
"This is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved if Congress gets back into town and does its job," Obama said at the top of a White House Cabinet meeting. "Don't put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk. Don't put projects at risk. And don't let a billion dollars, at a time when we're scrambling for every dollar we can, get left on the table because Congress did not act."
The shutdown has caused 4,000 FAA employees to be furloughed and more than 70,000 airport construction workers to be sent home without pay.
"The FAA is in limbo," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "Airports are the economic engine of small and large communities around the country and that engine is now stuck in neutral. Under the cover of the debt-ceiling crisis that they manufactured, [Republicans] have set in motion another crisis and again are holding the livelihoods of Americans hostage until they get everything they want."
Across town at the White House, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the only Republican in President Obama's cabinet, told reporters that members of Congress from both parties need to come together and fund the FAA.
"For politicians to run around Washington, as they've done for the last seven months, and talk about creating jobs, putting people back to work, this is not the way to do it," LaHood said. "The American people see the fallacy in these very hollow speeches. If Congress really believes in the words that they're saying about jobs, creating jobs, putting people back to work, stop your vacation, come back to Washington, pass a clean bill."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called on Boehner of Ohio to bring the House back to vote on a clean extension bill.
"I again say, Speaker Boehner, stop this nonsense," Reid said. "This is not the way to legislate. I think it is so, so bad.
"Stop this foolishness," he continued. "We are not going to be held hostage as you did with the debt-ceiling issue."
But Boehner said "the House has done its job" by passing a short term-extension bill. "Now it's time for senators to do theirs," he said in a statement.
"All it will take to end this crisis is for the Senate to pass the House-approved FAA extension. The only reason so many jobs are at stake is Senate Democratic Leaders chose to play politics rather than pass the House bill," Boehner said.
Congress has passed 20 short-term FAA funding bills since the agency's long-term authorization expired in 2007.
"It's very easy to solve this, embarrassingly, shamefully easy," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., the chairman of the Commerce Committee.
But while past extensions have been relatively uncontroversial, this one has caused a firestorm of debate because it brings a labor dispute and subsidies for rural airports into the fray.
The House has already passed a short-term extension bill, but Senate Democrats refuse to pass it because it includes $16.5 million in cuts to rural airport subsidies.
"The House sent the 21st FAA extension to the Senate on July 20, two weeks ago. Instead of passing this bill, which includes modest reforms to reduce exorbitant airline ticket subsidies and language the Senate already approved in February, the Senate chose to play politics and protect their pork," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement.
Reid said the dispute had nothing to do with the subsidies and everything to do with a new labor law that makes it easier for airline workers to unionize.
Rockefeller said the subsidies were included in the House bill in order to force the Senate to agree to the House Republican's attempts to overturn the new labor law. He accused Republicans of doing the bidding of Delta Airlines because it is the only major airline that is not unionized and the new law could make it easier for Delta's workers to join a union.
Mica pushed back, saying in his statement, "there are no labor provisions in the House-passed extension. House Republicans don't vote in the Senate. Airlines don't vote in the Senate."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the FAA shutdown was "another made-up crisis by Republicans" because "they want to get their way on a number of issues.
"Working men and women are out of work because of them and it is time they put the interest of jobs ahead of their own petty agenda," Boxer said. "This is government by hostage."