An insignificant story


The U.S. House of Representatives left for the summer last week. The messy negotiations were over. The debt ceiling was raised. The summer lull in news coverage has begun. A weary nation trying to beat the record heat is the big story.

Everyone barely noticed a story about the Federal Aviation Agency being shut down because of wrangling in the House over funding. Buried in that story is an unholy alliance between Delta Airlines and House Republicans. It is a story about an outrageous attempt to keep Delta’s workers from unionizing, and the Republicans’ hypocrisy about their pretense of caring about budget deficits when it collides with politics.

The agency has oversight over airports, airlines, pilots, employees, air traffic controllers and other parts of the nation’s aviation system. When it came time this year for Congress to reauthorize funding for the agency, House Republicans insisted on including an anti-union provision. In case you missed it, House Republicans have been bitten by the Tea Party virus. It is their way or well, you know. If you don’t give in to their blackmail, they will dig in their heels oblivious to any disaster that may follow. It was their strategy in preventing Congress from letting the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy expire and closing loopholes that would have ended subsidies to dirty-rich oil companies.

Delta gives lots of money to congressional campaigns. Now the airline wants payback and the rules changed so when a vote is held on whether its employees want to unionize, anyone absent, which includes sickness, vacation or any emergency, is counted as a no vote even though they didn’t vote at all. This is the provision Republicans have obligingly inserted in the funding bill for the agency. Don’t like the anti-union language? Fine. Republicans won’t vote to fund the agency without it.

If that were the complete story, chances are that your reaction would be, so what’s the big deal? Why should I worry about some more workers getting the shaft when things are bad for me too? But not so fast.

The failure to fund the agency caused the furlough of 4,000 workers and 87,000 construction workers including folks who collect federal taxes owed by the airlines to the federal government. The furlough wound up costing the federal government $30 million. Meanwhile, agency inspectors among others the government deemed essential were working without pay and paying for their job-related travel. The big story — where the real hypocrisy comes in — is rabout the uncollected tax dollars.

The uncollected taxes added $30 million a week to the federal deficit before a hurry-up make-shift deal allowed the Senate to extend the agency’s operating authority through mid-September, postponing the fight until the summer recess is over.

Here’s the coup de grace, if you’ll pardon my French. While some airlines decided to do the right thing and give their passengers the benefit of what amounted to a tax break because of uncollected taxes, others decided otherwise. Delta and some others increased fares by the amount of taxes not collected after the shutdown and just pocketed the difference. Delta’s greed should not come as a surprise. Any airline that could charge 34 military returning from Afghanistan $2,800 in extra baggage fees is a special sort of organization.

The Delta story is a snapshot of all that is wrong in our dysfunctional and corrupt political system. It is a story of unmitigated greed and how greed trumps political principle. It shows how one company has benefitted not only from its lobbying money, but how it is riding on the anti-union fervor of the times. It reveals the radical Tea Party has hijacked today’s Republican Party and the hatred for unions runs so deep on the right that even budget deficits pale in significance. While polls show that the public seems to place equal blame on both parties for the mess, it is the intransigence of the Republican Party that is the cause. And finally, it shows our government’s failure doesn’t just affect the other person. After all the dots are connected we find we are all affected.

When the members of Congress return after Labor Day with their great tans and smiling faces, funding for the agency will, no doubt, get resolved. As things seem to be going, another “compromise” will be forged. I placed quotation marks around the word because when a gun is held to your head, the better word is blackmail without quotes. The radicals that control the Republican Party will likely dig in their heels and refuse to remove the anti-union language from the funding bill, and the Democrats will probably cave.

There will be anguished cries from liberals about their party’s sellout of an employee’s right to form a union. They will be ignored. The Tea Party folks will pontificate about how we would be better off without the agency. There will be a photo-op of leaders of both parties when the final reauthorization bill is passed, though it will not even be close to the day’s top news story — just an insignificant story ignored by most.

And life will move on in Washington. It always does. SPR

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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.