Commentary: Lawmakers should agree on how to reopen FAA

Here’s one more measure of how dysfunctional Congress has become: For four years, lawmakers have been unable to agree on long-term funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, and now the agency’s operating authority has expired because members can’t even pass a short-term funding extension.

This shocking display of legislative ineptitude has imposed a partial shutdown on the FAA, affecting $2.5 billion in federal airport construction grants. Air traffic controllers remain on the job, but work has stopped at dozens of sites across the country where projects are in limbo. That includes airports in Miami-Dade, where terminal re-roofing and runway improvements are affected, and Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood. At a time when jobs are scarce and the construction industry is ailing, this is the worst time possible for a halt in funding.

All this is bad enough, but wait — it gets worse.

At a time when the government needs revenue to pay its bills, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the government stands to lose about $200 million a week in airline ticket taxes because the FAA lost the authority to collect the money last Friday.

Does the tax holiday mean lower fares for passengers? Fuggedaboutit. Most major airlines are pocketing the money and stiffing consumers.

The deadlock over a routine appropriations process — which mirrors the larger dispute over the debt ceiling — brought a tongue-lashing from Secretary LaHood, who said it has put 4,000 people out of work. He pleaded with lawmakers to act immediately to put the FAA back in business.

Mr. LaHood and some members of the Senate are calling on the airlines to pass the tax break on to consumers, to no avail. “It’s not fair to the flying public,” Mr. LaHood said. But the best some airlines have done so far is to tell consumers that they might have recourse with the IRS when they file a tax return next year.

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