Our recent debt ceiling imbroglio revealed how little leverage presidents have to induce responsible behavior in a pathological Congress. Regarding the current FAA stalemate, however, the president has unambiguous authority to take one important step: he can cut short Congress's vacation. Article II, section 3 authorizes the president "on extraordinary Occasions" to "convene both Houses." Congress's fecklessness in the case of the FAA qualifies as just such a moment.
The FAA's mission is straightforward: to assure safe and efficient air travel. Yet, Congress let funding for the FAA lapse on July 22 because Republicans want to cut $14 million in subsidies for airline service to 13 rural airports,including airports in states represented by senior Democratic senators. The irony is that, every day the FAA is shut down, the Government loses $30 million in airport fees that go into a trust fund to support the agency's operations. Questioning evolution is bad enough; ignoring arithmetic is just stupid.
The New York Times has crisply described how the fight has "idled tens of thousands of construction workers on airport projects around the country," and forced the agency to furlough nearly 4,000 "workers who oversee research on aviation systems, grants for airports and facilities and operations equipment." One would have thought the Republicans, who worry so much about "job creators," would have hesitated before inflicting this damage on an economic recovery that is already fragile.
The extortion now inflicted by the GOP Senate minority to keep a bill from the floor gives President Obama a crystal-clear opportunity to showcase the Republicans' fiscal thuggery for what it is -- pure power gamesmanship at the expense of the American people. The President should take Air Force One to each of the rural airports and ask why denying service to these communities is more important than preserving the efficiency and financial integrity of the agency charged with keeping our skies safe.
Mr. President, I like deliberation as much as the next citizen -- really. But this one is easy. Less talk, more action, please.