Turns out Congress did default — on air safety.
With the trumped-up crisis over the national debt behind them, lawmakers headed off on vacation and left a real crisis in the Federal Aviation Administration.
Funding for the FAA ran out July 23, and Congress recessed without renewing it.
As a result, construction projects worth $11 billion at airports around the country were halted, idling 70,000 private-sector construction workers.
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The government was unable to collect $30 million a day in taxes on airline tickets — at a time when Congress is supposedly serious about trimming the deficit.
(Lest you think this was a windfall for travelers, forget it. Airlines just raised fares by the amount of the tax and pocketed it.)
About 4,000 of the FAA's 47,000 employees were furloughed without pay.
But common sense apparently has prevailed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal yesterday afternoon that will end the crisis by granting the FAA a temporary reauthorization.
The Senate will approve a House-passed bill. But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will exercise his authority to waive the House bill's cancelation of $16 million in subsidies for rural air service in mostly Democratic districts. This can be done procedurally without the full Senate having to return to Washington.
When Congress resumes in September, the partisans can duke it out over the subsidies and the real sticking point: House Republicans' demand to limit the ability of airline employees to unionize.
The deal is good news.
With the stock market in a swoon and the rest of the economy looking peaked, the last thing we need was to kick 70,000 construction workers and 4,000 FAA employees out of work.
About 40 airport safety inspectors were continuing to work without pay and also paying their own expenses for travel between airports.
The dedication and selflessness of the FAA inspectors stands in sharp contrast to the ideologues in Congress.
One group of federal employees did its job without pay while Congress is getting paid for repeatedly not doing its job.