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Transportation secretary to Congress: 'Get back to work'

Congress may have solved the debt limit debate, but its work is far from finished if you ask Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Today, LaHood made a surprise appearance (his second in as many weeks) at the White House daily press briefing, where he lashed out at lawmakers for starting their summer recess without ending the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.  “Come back to Washington,” LaHood implored Congress. “Leave your vacation. Come back to Congress. Help your friends and neighbors get back to work!”

LaHood said the impasse, which started on July 23, has left 4,000 federal employees furloughed and more than 70,000 construction workers out of a job because airline construction projects have been halted.  

At issue is a financing proposal that would cut subsidies at rural airports, as well as a GOP-backed proposal making it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to unionize.

The Republican-sponsored FAA bill easily passed the House, but it stalled in the Senate, where Democrats say the legislation is harmful to workers’ rights and makes it almost impossible for some small airports to remain open. “Senate Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for this partial shutdown of FAA programs and airport projects," charged U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation Committee. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired back; “So many people desperate for work are being told they can’t because once again the house Republicans, rather than legislate the way we’ve done around here for a long time, feel they have the empowerment to hurt individual people.”  Senate leaders urged Republicans to come back to Washington to pass a short-term extension that would at least approve funding for the FAA past the legislative summer recess.

President Obama also called on Congress to act. “This time Congress has decided to play some politics ... and as a consequence, they left town without getting this extension done.” The president warned that the federal government was in danger of losing $200 million a week due to the suspension of airline tax revenues during the partial shutdown.

“This is a self-inflicted wound that is unnecessary,” Obama said. According to White House officials, the president spoke with House Speaker John Boehner about the FAA stalemate Tuesday. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters the administration was looking at the “measures the president may be able to take” to bring an end to the impasse.

During his appearance at the press briefing, LaHood emphasized the urgency of the situation. “When I went to LaGuardia [airport], I met with unemployed construction workers. These people are hurting... They don't know at the end of the day whether they're going to be able to make their next mortgage payment, car payment.” 

He also pointed to the fact that dozens of airline inspectors are working without pay.  Insisting that safety will not be compromised, LaHood still warned time has run out. “I'm focusing my attention like a laser beam on Congress... End your vacation for a couple days... Come back to Washington... Pass a bill.” His fiery remarks led one reporter to ask Carney if the White House would have liked to have the Transportation secretary working with the President to end the debt limit debate.

“He does have a full time job,” Carney quipped.