At the risk of linking to Dana Milbank, allow me to quote John Mica, the man who single-handedly sat the FAA on the sidelines for two weeks:

“I’ve had a brutal week, getting beat up by everybody,” Mica told me, minutes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal that would end the shutdown and avoid the cuts to regional air service that Mica wanted.

“I didn’t know it would cause this much consternation,” Mica said. “Now I’ve just got to get the broom and the shovel and clean up the mess.” Switching metaphors, he said he wanted “to unclog the toilet, but it backed up. So I don’t know what to do, what to say.”

One thing he’s going to do is make amends. He said he would introduce legislation Friday to pay FAA workers for their furlough days. “We just want to cheer all those workers who have been left out on a limb by this,” he explained.

First of all, wahhhh wahhhh wahhhh. Got that out of my system. Second of all, the problem had nothing to do whatsoever with rural air service subsidies. This is important, because I think it’s largely overlooked. Some of the subsidies that go to these regional airports may seem excessive. Indefensible, even. And actually, the people that would agree with you on that include the US Senate. The subsidy trims are in the Senate version of the FAA authorization bill. Harry Reid accepted the cuts, and offered to take them in any short-term extension. That led to the deal today, where Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered to look at nullifying the cuts, though he didn’t promise anything.

There’s a larger point to be made here. What Senate Democrats were protecting was an institutional norm. Twenty times the Congress has passed a routine FAA extension, and twenty times the bills were clean. All of a sudden the House throws a policy rider in, one that was very specifically targeted at the leaders of the Senate (the cuts specifically hit airports in Montana, Nevada and West Virginia – home to three of the leading Democratic Senators on this bill), and tells the Senate to eat it. Do you think it stops there if the Senate accepts it? Do you think that the next set of riders thrown into routine extensions will all be things Democrats can accept? By rejecting the rider-filled extension out of hand, the Senate was holding the line on GOP gamesmanship. Moreover, weakness here would have reverberated into the negotiation over the long-term bill, which is all about union-busting at Delta Airlines.

So instead of capitulating, Senate Dems stood up to the bully, and John Mica got pilloried for it. I don’t like one bit that FAA workers got caught in the crossfire, but Mica is even offering to repay them for their furlough days. And by holding the line, Democrats may have stopped far worse public policymaking down the road. On this issue, at least, Democrats did not give in to hostage taking. The negotiations over the main bill aren’t over, and it’s not clear how things will turn out with the anti-union provisions in there. But I’m happy they got John Mica to whine like a teenager at the mall on this one.

UPDATE: Just to add to this, check out Harry Reid singling out Mica in his follow-up statement:

“Republicans like Representative John Mica are already threatening to force these 74,000 Americans out of their jobs again when this extension expires on September 16th. With millions of Americans struggling, we cannot afford for Republicans to hold common-sense jobs bills hostage to the Tea Party’s ideological agenda. I hope Republicans will come to their senses and put the interests of the middle class ahead of the Tea Party and favors for airline CEOs.”

David Dayen

David Dayen

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