Rockefeller Floor Remarks on FAA Shutdown

July 27, 2011

Chairman Rockefeller asks Sec. Locke questions about strengthening manufacturing in America.WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a statement on the Senate floor today, Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV criticized Delta Airlines for pushing an anti-worker agenda and encouraged the House and Senate to pass a clean FAA bill extension.

Rockefeller’s prepared remarks follow:

Last week, I came to the Senate floor to ask Unanimous Consent to pass a clean extension of the FAA—something the Senate had done 20 times before, over four years.  But, for the first time in four years, Republicans objected to this routine request.  

Shortly, I will renew my request to pass our twenty-first, short-term extension of the FAA.  Before I do, I want to highlight the very painful consequences of failing to pass this bill.  By objecting to my request last week, Republican Senators made sure that: 4,000 hard working FAA employees were furloughed; hundreds of critical airport safety, capacity, and air traffic control projects were brought to a halt; payments were stopped to hundreds of small businesses dependent on reimbursement from the FAA for their work; the federal government is being forced to forgo almost $30 million a day in aviation tax revenue that is critical to supporting our aviation system; and, the introduction of the newest Boeing aircraft are being delayed because the FAA cannot certify that the planes operate safely. 

I know in Washington, we have a tendency to view these fights as purely policy disagreements that have no real impact on people.  Because some Republicans have refused to allow another clean extension of the FAA’s programs, we are inflicting real pain on real people.  People are suffering, small businesses are hurting, and we are losing jobs.  Even consumers are losing out on an airline ticket tax holiday as the majority of the airline industry has greedily chosen to pocket those revenues rather than reducing ticket prices.  The damage we are doing to our aviation system is real, and if we fail to act in a timely manner, it may be so devastating as to be irreversible.

With so much pain being inflicted on so many, you may ask why my Republican colleagues have refused repeated requests to pass a clean extension.  They are willing to hurt so many for the benefit of one company—Delta Air Lines.   As the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee has stated publicly, the House inserted language on the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to leverage the Senate on including provisions relating to the National Mediation Board (NMB).

The House did not send over a larger package of comprehensive EAS reforms that we have been negotiating during our meetings, but rather they sent over language designed to hurt my state, the Majority Leader’s state, and the Chairman of the Finance Committee’s state.  This is not policy, it is pettiness.  It has become the typical “my way or the high way” thinking of House Republicans.  And, I would note that we have forgone almost $150 million in tax revenues by failing to act.  By the end of the week, we will have lost more revenue used for aviation infrastructure spending than the entire EAS program cost last year.

I wish my Republican colleagues would have defended the prerogatives of the Senate.  Instead, some chose to back the House Leadership.  As my friend from Utah outlined so honestly last week, Senate Republicans are not permitting the Senate to pass a clean extension because they want the Senate to accept language altering 85 years of labor law and legal precedent.  

I wish I understood why the policy objections of one company—Delta Air Lines—mattered more than the livelihoods of thousands of people.  Last year, the CEO of Delta made $9 million.  Delta paid its top executives almost $20 million.  Yet, it is fighting to make sure its employees cannot organize for fear that they may secure a few extra dollars in their paychecks.  At the same time it is pushing for special interest provisions in the FAA bill, Delta announced it was abandoning air service to 26 small rural communities—leaving many of them without air service.

Delta then had the gall to announce publicly it would seek EAS subsidies to continue this service.  Maybe Mr. Anderson and his colleagues could forgo some of their salary to help subsidize this air service.  Maybe they could use some of the millions of dollars they are collecting in a tax holiday windfall to pay for this service.  Their actions are shameful.

Let me be clear, House Republicans and their Senate allies have thrown nearly four thousand FAA employees out of work, stopped critical airport safety projects, hurt hundreds of small businesses, and gutted the Aviation Trust Fund, all so that Delta Air Lines doesn’t have to allow its employees to organize in a fair and timely manner.

The needs of one company should not dictate the safety and soundness of our aviation system.  We need to pass a clean extension that will get people back to work, and businesses and their employees back to work building out critical airport infrastructure.

Therefore, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the consideration of H.R.2553, which was received from the House, and that the Rockefeller-Hutchinson substitute amendment, which is at the desk be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed.