Although the debt ceiling debate was taking center stage, another budget showdown unfolded in Congress before it took its summer break. The Federal Aviation Administration's authority to operate expired July 22. Before then, it had been operating under a series of short-term extensions since its last long term budget plan expired in 2007. Another short term plan had passed through the House but it stalled in the Senate, as Democrats rejected its cuts to rural airports (many of which were located in Democratic districts) and the rollback of certain union rights that was attached to the bill.
With the expiration, the FAA has been forced to put 4,000 employees on furlough. Forty employees continue to work and the FAA insists that the safety of flying has not been compromised during the shutdown. However, without a budget, those employees must wait until the shutdown is resolved until they are paid and cannot take sick days (one employee reportedly working through a staph infection). Around 200 construction projects were also halted, meaning even more jobs have been sacrificed in the standstill. Along with jobs, the shutdown has cost the United States a great deal of money. The FAA no longer has the authority to levy taxes, so far costing the government $200 million and as much as $1 billion by the time Congress meets again.
Senate Democrats have become the easy target to pin this mess, for it is in their chamber the House bill stalled. However, TSJ blogger Susan Milligan says Republicans share the blame in their refusal to budge on union rights. And on the GOP-proposed budget, she points out, "The Capitol fight has cost the government far more money than it would have saved if the GOP had gotten its way on the budget cuts."