J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama urged Congress on Wednesday to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, which began nearly two weeks ago because of a partisan standoff over air service to rural communities and union organizing.
Obama noted that nearly 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed, another 70,000 workers involved in airport construction projects are affected and the country stands to lose more than $1 billion in revenue from uncollected airline ticket taxes during the shutdown if Congress leaves the problem hanging until lawmakers return in September.
"So this is a lose-lose-lose situation," he said.
Even in trying to pressure Congress to act, the White House is considering what options Obama has to intervene in the dispute, spokesman Jay Carney said.
When asked directly what he could do to step in, Obama told reporters: "I have made calls to key leaders, and I am urging them to get this done."
A White House official later confirmed that Obama called House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, about the FAA flap on Wednesday.
The Republican leader's public response was the whole problem can be resolved almost immediately if Senate Democrats will only accept a mere $16.5 million in air service subsidy cuts that the House last month attached to a bill to extend FAA's operating authority. "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 in a statement.
But Democratic leaders, speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference, said the cuts are a sham. The real issue, they said, is that Republicans are provoking crisis after crisis to get Democrats to accept policy changes that the GOP wouldn't be able to achieve through normal legislative negotiations.
That strategy was successful during the debt limit negotiations, but Democrats said they are drawing a line on the FAA shutdown.
"When you look back at their (Republican) threats to shut down the entire government — remember that? — unless they got tax breaks for the rich, followed by holding the full faith and credit of this government hostage to their desires to cut government spending. And now here we are a third time ... I hope the American people wake up. This is their modus operandi: government by crisis that they make up," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said.
Democrats offered bills in the House and Senate to extend FAA's operating authority with no strings attached, but action on the measures was blocked by Republicans. The House left town for its August recess on Monday night, and the Senate on Tuesday. But it's still possible for Congress to pass those bills by unanimous consent without lawmakers returning to work if the leaders of both parties agree, Democrats said.
Obama also noted Congress has a procedural way of ending the shutdown without coming back.
"And they can have the fights that they want to have when they get back (in September)," he said. "Don't put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk, don't put projects at risk, and don't let $1 billion at a time when we're scrambling for every dollar we can, get off the table because Congress did not act."
The president said his "expectation, and I think the American people's expectation is that this gets resolved before the end of this week."
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Associated Press that House GOP leaders will only agree to their own bill with $16.5 million spending cuts to subsidies for air service to rural communities.
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