FAA dispute’s winners and losers
By Al Kamen,
The apparently settled two-week dispute over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration has already cost the the government about $400 million in revenue from ticket taxes — in addition to temporarily putting about 4,000 FAA employees and 70,000 airport construction workers out of jobs.
But where there are losers, there are also winners. That $400 million isn’t going to disappear. Nooo. It’s going to go to the airlines — at least those that continued to collect the tax money from travelers during the funding fight.
And that money couldn’t come at a better time, said Sharon Pinkerton, a lobbyist for the Air Transport Association — and former counsel to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.).
“The airline industry is sick, it’s anemic,” Pinkerton said at a Senate hearing last week. “In the last 10 years, we’ve had to shed 150,000 jobs [a nice way to say fired a bunch of people] due to our $55 billion of losses,” she said. “We have to be able to cover the cost of flying folks.”
Apparently it’s not enough to charge for blankets, bags and leg room and to stick it to active-duty military members who need to re-book their flights.
So now the airlines may be losing money but they are losing less, having effectively gotten more than a 7.5 percent increase in fares.
Of the 10 largest passenger airlines in the ATA, only Alaska Airlines decided it would stop collecting the 7.5 percent tax on tickets — along with some other significant fees. That would let its customers reap the benefits, effectively cutting their ticket prices. (Easy for Alaska Airlines to do, because it actually makes money on a regular basis.)
Now, if this all gets worked out, will the legislation put the 7.5 percent tax back on top of the new higher ticket prices? Would that be voting for a tax increase? Uh-oh.
Tax dollars at work
Speaking of flying, we’re happy to report that the FAA problems are not going to thwart our members of Congress from taking fact-finding trips abroad this summer to beat the stifling heat here. There was never really any danger, because they use military jets.
So House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and ranking Democrat Norm Dicks (Wash.), plus a yet-to-be determined number of committee members, are taking off this month for 10 days in Europe to meet with top officials and talk about military operations and expenditures there.
“Members will conduct vigorous, boots-on-the-ground oversight over the use of American tax-dollars,” a committee spokesperson e-mailed. (So bring boots in addition to flip-flops.)
Stops include sites in Britain, Germany and Austria. We had heard a stop in Italy was possible but in August that would surely have to be in the north, near the Dolomites. Naturally, spouses and staff members will have to go along to help find those facts.
The Rose Garden 50th-birthday bash for President Obama on Thursday night — a sit-down buffet of chicken and hot dogs and steak and salads and sides and wine — featured a sprinkling of some of the usual glitterati — Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Charles Barkley, Grant Hill, Emmitt Smith.
There were very few White House staff members and Cabinet and Hill folks — including Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Holder, John Brennan, Bill Daley, Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz — gathered at the three dozen or so round tables covered in white linen with yellow sunflower centerpieces.
Some funders — Andy Spahn from the Spielberg crowd — and a couple of former governors — Tim Kaine and Bill Richardson — were also there.
First lady Michele Obama was there with the kids, Malia and Sasha, who was sitting with Chris Rock. Wellington Wilson and his wife, the girls’ godparents from Chicago, were spotted.
The crowd, said to be from a list of about 300 Obama drew up, was overwhelmingly buddies, mostly longtime Obama pals from Chicago and college and law school days, our spotters said.
Read it and weep
Stumped for some fine summer reading? How about a painfully long and tedious autobiography by a guy you’ve never heard of who was an ambassador to a group of small island nations you could never come close to locating on a world map?
It’s “When the White House Calls,” the memoir of wealthy Utah commercial real estate developer John Price. It’s a weighty tome indeed, coming in at 712 pages (W’s memoir was 512, Rummy’s 832) and weighing more than three pounds.
President George W. Bush nominated Price, his Utah state campaign finance chairman, in May 2001 to be ambassador to the Republic of Mauritius, the Republic of the Seychelles and the Union of the Comoros. The embassy is on Mauritius, a beautiful island — the only known home to the now-extinct dodo bird — out in the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles off the southeast coast of Africa. The three nations have a combined population of about 1.3 million.
Price reportedly contributed $471,550 to the Bush campaign — back when that was a lot of money. A month before the nomination, a Salt Lake City jury awarded $1.1 million in compensatory damages and $5.5 million in punitive damages to a New Mexico couple who contended that his company cheated them in a real estate deal.
The Utah Supreme Court upheld the verdict in October 2003, the Salt Lake Tribune reported at the time, adding that that same week an editorial in the largest newspaper in Mauritius called for Price’s resignation.
The editorial, headlined “Time to Retire,” mentioned the state Supreme Court ruling, said Price bought the job — a cheap shot, given our cherished diplomatic traditions — and said he skipped the swearing-in ceremony of the country’s new president to “attend some conference abroad.”
But we digress. The problem is that the book, which was sent to a colleague here, reads like an expanded daily calendar, recounting things such as Price’s work to cancel and re-book hotel rooms after the dates for a major trade conference were changed.
The autobiography is published by Price’s alma mater, the University of Utah Press. He served on the school’s board of trustees from 1992 to 1999. The book retails for $30 but you can get it for just $22.80 on Amazon, where it ranked Thursday at No. 610,053 in books.
Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP
Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this column.