Buttigieg warns of airline disruptions if government shuts down

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday warned of airline disruptions if Congress is unable to pass funding bills or come to a short-term resolution before Friday, which would trigger a government shutdown.

“A shutdown would include, just in the transportation side alone, shutting down air traffic control training at the exact moment when the country recognizes the need for more, not less air traffic control staffing and when we have finally got cancellations back at or below normal rates,” Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of The Union.” 

“The air traffic controllers who would be working in the towers, they wouldn’t get paid,” Buttigieg continued. “They’re under enough stress as it is doing that job without having to come into work with the added stress of not receiving a paycheck.”

Buttigieg said a shutdown would exacerbate the transportation industry’s staffing issues, which is already faced with disruptions.

Pressed over what these disruptions might mean for passengers, Buttigieg said the exacerbated staffing issues at a time where they are trying to grow the workforce would stop the transportation department “in its tracks,” while also pointing to a potential halt in technology. 

“In January, there was an outage of a critical I.T. system that the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] has been working to modernize,” Buttigieg said. “A shutdown would slow down our progress modernizing technology, at the exact moment when we need to do it,” adding the shutdown “has to be avoided.” 

“Another thing that grinds to a halt in the event of a shutdown is the work that we have been doing to have rules that get passengers refunds when they get delayed,” Buttigieg added. 

Pointing to the initial debt deal earlier this summer made between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Buttigieg said the spending levels the Biden administration agreed to were already a compromise for Democrats. 

“Just from the transportation side alone, it meant us accepting that Republicans were demanding to programs that we wanted to use to fund more roads and bridges and airports,” he said. “But we made that deal and all we’re asking is that they live up to that deal.” 

Buttigieg, a former Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, accused House Republicans of using the potential shutdown as leverage to get spending cuts over the deal that were previously made. 

“Some of the very same House Republicans who were lining up to try to make partisan political issue of air travel disruptions are proposing cuts that would make it harder to modernize our systems,” Buttigieg said. “Some of the very same House Republicans who were aligning up to try to make the pain of the people of East Palestine, Ohio, into a partisan political issue would cut railroad safety inspections. It makes no sense.” 

The federal government is set to run out of funds by the end of this week unless Congress can pass a temporary funding measure beforehand. Hoping to avert a shutdown, GOP leaders tried to pass a rule on a short-term stopgap bill last week to extend government funding past the Sept. 30 deadline, but were met with conservative opposition in the narrow GOP majority.

Over the next week, Republicans will work to pass four of their 12 full-year government funding bills, then make another go at a short-term stopgap bill to prevent a shutdown.

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