Congressional leaders have agreed to a deal to fund the government past this Friday, but given that they also did that before the recent, record-breaking government shutdown, and that Donald Trump is already grumbling about the deal, nothing is guaranteed.
Last time, the shutdown was ended in part when the Federal Aviation Administration grounded flights into LaGuardia because so many air traffic control staff were calling out sick (this was on the same day that at least 14,000 unpaid IRS employees didn’t show up to work). This time around, though, aviation industry groups are pushing to be insulated from another shutdown should it occur, and it just might happen. This might seem like a good idea, but it’s not.
Last Friday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio and Aviation Subcommittee chair Rep. Rick Larsen, both Democrats, introduced a bill to allow the FAA to continue to fund itself via a trust fund in the event of a government shutdown.
On Tuesday, The Hill reported, 40 industry and labor groups signed onto a letter to Congress supporting the bill. Per The Hill:
“Jobs and economic growth in the industry were threatened as manufacturers, airlines and other operators, and small businesses faced disruption. The effect on the nation’s air transportation system and the workers charged with keeping the system safe was dramatic,” the letter reads.
“We find this situation to be unacceptable and we want to work with Congress and the Administration to prevent this from ever happening again,” the letter continues. “The legislation is designed to provide a limited, targeted way of ensuring stability for the aviation system and it does not change congressional direction or oversight in any way.
There’s a few obvious reasons why Congress might be inclined to back this plan. Foremost is that it’s objectively insane for federal workers to be forced to work when they’re not getting paid, and it’s understandable why labor groups would sign on in an attempt to avoid that. Another legitimate concern is the safety issues arising from not funding the FAA.
But while there are obvious short-term reasons to fund the FAA, it’s a bad move if you want a functioning government in the long run. By protecting the aviation industry and its consumers from the worst effects of a government shutdown, the bill only encourages the continued use of shutdowns as a weapon in negotiations between Congress or the president.
It also removes a weapon to end shutdowns in their tracks, by undercutting the potential for a strike or walkout. Aviation workers already played a huge role in ending one government shutdown, and it’s not likely they’re willing to wait another 35 days this time. In an interview with NBC News, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA head Sara Nelson called for demonstrations at the nation’s airports and threatened a work stoppage if there’s another shutdown.
An easy way out of this would be to eliminate government shutdowns altogether; there are two bills in the Senate, one from Republicans and one from Democrat Mark Warner with the impossibly corny name “Stop STUPIDITY Act,” which would do just that. Until then, all federal workers should have every tool at their disposal to grind America to a halt until the government gets its shit together.