But the Democrats' usual tap dance didn't click. The news conference backfired. The next day, the Senate announced a deal to keep the FAA in business temporarily.
The stalemate began July 20, when the House passed a bill to extend FAA funding through Sept. 15. Even though failure to pass a bill would mean a shutdown and the temporary loss of 75,000 federal and construction jobs, Senate Democrats blocked passage because the House measure cut $16.5 million of funding from a pork-rich rural-airport subsidy program.
The news conference was meant to prompt the media to blame Republican recalcitrance. Instead, a reporter asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "Why not just accept this short-term extension and live to fight another day?"
The Dems were dumbstruck. Reid replied, "Live to fight another day (on) Sept. 15 and -- what will the hostages be then?" Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chided the reporter for "a certain naivete" in not understanding that "this is about government threats." Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., pointed out that House Republicans had targeted politically powerful Democrats and taken away "things that were necessary for them." Rockefeller should know. He is one of them.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sputtered, "It's the issue of hostage taking. It's as if someone puts a gun to your head and says, 'Give me your money,' and then you say, 'Why won't you give them their money?'"
Clearly, Schumer and company see your tax dollars as theirs to spend. As The Washington Post editorialized, the Essential Air Service program is "notoriously wasteful." It subsidizes half-empty flights to rural airports, many within 100 miles of larger airports. Its funding quadrupled from $26 million in 1997 to $109 million in 2007. It now costs some $200 million annually.
In holding Wednesday's news conference, Reid, Boxer, Rockefeller and Schumer were trumpeting their decision to put pork and perks ahead of other people's paychecks.
The deal announced Thursday allows the Senate to pass the House bill with the cuts to the Essential Air Service program -- thanks to an understanding that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood can grant waivers and throw money at hard-pressed airports.