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Jane Ahlin, Published August 07 2011

Ahlin: Tea party crowd tosses out common sense for nuttiness

After the bruising debt-ceiling debacle, tea partiers would like their constituents to believe they took a principled stand on taxes and put the nation on track to fiscal responsibility. Gee whiz, that’s a sad joke. Before President Barack Obama had signed that legislation into law, the Republican “NO!” monolith showed how little money matters. Their cavalier attitude toward the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration was a true indicator of who those folks are.

Here’s the short version: In an effort to deny $16.5 million in subsidies to 16 small rural airports (which just happen to be in the home states of a few prominent Democrats, such as Harry Reid), Republicans shrugged off the likely loss of $1 billion in revenue from airline ticket taxes and left on their five-week August vacations. By their reasoning, $16.5 million was wasteful spending, but a billion-dollar loss? No big deal. After success at holding the good faith and credit of the USA hostage to a right-wing pledge denying not simply new taxes but tax reform, they weren’t about to settle. Negotiate? Compromise? In tea party Washington, that’s so yesterday.

In fact, to underscore how little money meant in the FAA shutdown, note that Sen. Jay Rockefeller worked out a compromise with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that would have cut $70 million from rural airport funding – in other words, a whole lot more than the $16.5 million insisted upon by the House. But that got nowhere. When it comes to the tea party, everything is “take it or leave it.”

By the way, is anybody curious about how North Dakota airports were going to fare if rural airport cuts became the emphasis for getting a vote? Another question: Why weren’t those Republicans – whose mantra is letting taxpayers keep more of their own money – all over the airwaves condemning airlines for keeping the tax money for themselves instead of refunding it to the tax-paying flying public?

I know, I know, consumer concerns are so yesterday. (Note: Senate Republicans also refuse to confirm any nominee to head the consumer financial protection agency.)

Interestingly, back when Obama thought appointing Republicans to administrative posts would help restore a spirit of bipartisanship, a former Republican congressional delegate from Illinois, Ray LaHood, was appointed to head up the transportation administration. Unfortunately, in this situation, his own political party wouldn’t give him the time of day.

It looked as if LaHood – and the flying public – had to depend upon the professionalism of FAA safety inspectors to stay on the job, even though that meant that not only were they not getting paid, but in order to do their job, they also were forced to use their personal credit cards for flights and hotel expenses. According to The New York Times, that’s about five trips every two weeks. Had the White House, LaHood and congressional leaders not come up with a gimmick to fund the FAA through mid-September, who knows how long that would have lasted.

It was nuts.

In fact, it was nuttier than nuts because in addition to the expected billion-dollar loss in revenue, 4,000 FAA workers were being furloughed and 70,000 airport construction workers laid off. (Fargo’s Hector International Airport would have had to suspend a project.) We might expect legislators concerned about the economy and jobs not to lay off workers without a critical reason. But for Republicans, jobs are so yesterday, especially jobs associated with labor.

The truth is that all their FAA shenanigans over a few rural airports really were to keep a federal regulation instituted by the National Mediation Board from taking effect. The regulation would allow the majority of votes cast by workers to determine labor representation; Republicans wanted any worker who abstains from voting for whatever reason counted as a “no.”

The upshot is that over $350 million in ticket taxes went to Republican-backing airline companies instead of into federal coffers (or back to consumers) before the mess was put on hold for another six weeks. What a nice bonus for tea partiers who stick to their principles no matter the cost.

Ahin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.