ABC News’ Mary Bruce (@marykbruce) reports:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today that lawmakers should not go on their summer vacations until they pass legislation to end the Federal Aviation Administration shutdown, saying it was not fair for Congress to hold workers hostage.
“I’m urging Congress… to take action to pass legislation so that people can go back to work and negotiations can begin on whatever the sticking points are that members of Congress feel they need in a final FAA bill,” LaHood said on a conference call this afternoon. “Do not go on your vacations until this issue is settled.”
It’s been over a week since the FAA shut down for the first time in history after Congress failed to pass a bill to continue its funding. For ten days now, nearly 4,000 FAA employees have been furloughed and as many as 70,000 construction workers have been out of work.
Now that a deal to raise the debt ceiling has been reached, LaHood said that “Congress has the ability, they have the time to pass an FAA bill before they leave on their summer vacation” and he called on Congress to pass a clean extension through the end of September.
“To hold hostage, construction workers… [and] FAA employees is just simply not fair when Congress has the ability to pass the 21st extension the way they have done on 20 other occasions without any controversy,” he added.
In the meantime, the Secretary insisted that safety has not been compromised as a result of the shutdown. However, to keep things running smoothly roughly 40 FAA safety inspectors across the country are continuing to work for free.
“Because Congress has failed to act, these inspectors are doing their job without pay. They’re traveling around the country to airports at their own expense,” FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta said on the call.
LaHood did not back away from chastising airlines for continuing to charge customers a federal tax on tickets and pocketing the money for themselves. “I don’t think it’s right for them to collect this amount of money under the idea that it’s a part of the taxes that are collected, because they’re not being collected,” he said. “That money is going directly into the coiffeurs of the airlines and costing passengers.”
Asked if there is a chance that customers could get a refund, LaHood said he is working with the Treasury to “figure this out."