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In FAA standoff, GOP played chicken with American jobs

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
  • Donna Brazile: GOP House held up FAA funding, leaving 4,000 workers furloughed
  • Brazile says standoff partly due to GOP attempt to weaken ability of unions to organize
  • She says imperfect deal puts off issues but shows Democrats can compromise, put U.S. first
  • Brazile: Americans confused, weary of political spectacle and should vote GOP out of office

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, a nationally syndicated columnist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She was manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000 and wrote "Cooking With Grease."

(CNN) -- Some Republicans love to talk about "job-destroying" progressive policies, but hate to own up to their own trickle-down ways. It's not that hard to get specific about the tepid economic recovery and all the Republican-backed policies that are destroying jobs though. Let me tell you about one we almost experienced.

Just this week, after securing a deal slashing $1 trillion in discretionary spending, House Republicans held up funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, putting 4,000 employees on unpaid furloughs and the jobs of tens of thousands of construction workers at risk.

This at a time when so many Americans feel downright despairing about the economy. This on top of the stock market sinking, and with Americans still desperate for work. Why did Republicans choose to play chicken with American jobs?

It's because they believe that FAA workers have too many employee protections. Their hyperconservative ideology required them to put hardworking Americans' livelihoods at risk to pressure the government to weaken workers' rights. House Republicans wanted the Senate to approve their reversal of a rule change on unions that makes it easer for airline employees to win union representation.

Republicans were tone-deaf to wage this battle. One Senate Republican called the behavior of the House GOP "not honorable," and a raft of editorials from newspapers on both sides of the aisle called the funding roadblock deplorable. The New York Times noted that the move even defunded airport inspectors, who play a vital role in ensuring the safety of air travelers around the country. Remarkably, these inspectors continued to do their jobs without pay.

FAA deal to put thousands back to work

Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he has brokered a deal to keep FAA workers on the job. The Senate is likely to pass the House's conservative version of the funding bill, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (a former Republican congressman, for what it's worth), will maintain the right to keep open small airports that the House GOP has tried to shutter. Additionally, the disputed labor provisions will be moved to the FAA reauthorization bill, now tied up in Congress.

In other words, the deal struck by the Obama administration and Reid rescue the FAA workers held hostage by the GOP and leaves the ideological battle for another day. As Reid put it in his statement, "This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that."

Could there be a clearer illustration of the difference in tone between congressional Democrats and Republicans? Democrats understand the difficult state of our economy but also understand that Washington can't throw in the towel on protecting and creating jobs. Just as on the debt deal, Democrats have been willing to compromise, to tackle sacred cows and to put the American economy first.

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Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, are utterly beholden to the tea party. Their electoral fortunes are now so tied to maintaining a purist ideology that they are willing to hold American jobs prisoner, and to pursue economic policies that would slow the economy in boom times, let alone in its current state.

Republicans in Congress have a job to do. Americans handed them control of the House of Representatives with the knowledge that Democrats still controlled the Senate and White House. They hoped that moderate and level-headed governance would result. Yet the GOP is hewing closer and closer to an extremism that is rendering governing impossible.

Americans can only look to Washington with increasing confusion and desperation as this sad spectacle continues. A poll released Thursday showed Congressional approval at a record 14 percent low. Can anyone be surprised?

We can only hope congressional Republicans enjoy their upcoming vacation. With any luck, voters will give them a longer one in November 2012.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.