A government shutdown? This week is just the warm-up.

The new fiscal year begins this Thursday, October 1st, and only the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner effective the end of October may head off a shutdown.  As we again approach the precipice of another government shutdown it’s reasonable to ask, how did we get here?  Readers of my occasional blogs on the budget process know that we were always in for a rough ride this year, as the President’s budget proposal sought $75 billion more in discretionary spending than is allowed under the Budget Control Act (chart below):

Discretionary Spending Caps (in billions)
Enacted FY15 Current Law FY16 President FY 16
 (proposed)
Defense $521 $523 $561
Non-defense $492 $493 $530
Total $1,013 $1,016 $1,091

Layered on top of an already difficult situation were press reports about the activities of Planned Parenthood.  These reports have had a galvanizing effect with some elements within Congress prepared to shut down the government rather than see the organization continue to receive federal funding.

This is no small matter for the aviation business community.  The 16-day shutdown in 2013 had huge practical implications for both aviation businesses and general aviation as a whole, including the shuttering of the FAA’s Aircraft Registry, FSDOs and a myriad of other elements of the FAA upon which the industry depends to safely operate.

It’s all about the votes.  Even if the House passes a funding bill that prohibits federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a vote in the Senate last week confirmed there are not enough votes for it in the Senate.  But let’s say it passed the Senate, it would still be vetoed by the President — and there are not enough votes in either chamber to override the President’s veto.  Outgoing Speaker Boehner noted yesterday: “We’ve got groups here in town, mem­bers of the House and Sen­ate here in town who whip people in­to a frenzy think­ing they can ac­com­plish things that they know—they know—can nev­er hap­pen.”

In the short term it appears we will escape a shut-down but it’s potentially just the warm-up for the main event in December.  Last week’s vote in the Senate, that demonstrated there is insufficient support for a prohibition on federal funding of Planned Parenthood, was the first step in a process that could lead to a Continuing Resolution, or CR, as we call it here in political Disneyland, through December 11th.  However, a CR only temporarily funds the government by continuing funding levels from the prior year.

In mid-December we will again have all the challenges outlined above plus a new one.  Just before Labor Day the Congressional Budget Office lobbed another bombshell in Congress’ lap, the nation’s debt ceiling will need to be raised before the end of the year.  As you can imagine, that’s a vote detested by lawmakers, and one that is often the magnet for those seeking dramatic policy prescriptions as the price of their support.

Of course, chaos always draws opportunists and it’s not just on the spending side.  Some will use the current budget situation as justification for the corporatization of air traffic control.  Only in Washington will a failure by our elected officials to perform their basic duties lead some to propose to radically alter the world’s largest, most complex and safest system.  Why stop at the FAA?  If the budget process is unalterably broken, perhaps we should privatize other aspects of government operation.  Rather than asking our elected leaders to do their jobs, let’s also privatize national defense.

For general aviation nothing good comes from privatization, unless you consider rising costs and denial of access to airways and airports good.  Realize though that even if air traffic control were to be separated from the FAA’s safety function, the agency operations upon which general aviation and aviation manufacturers depend will still be at risk during future budget showdowns.

By Bill Deere, Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs

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