When President Trump unveiled his “skinny” budget earlier this month, it contained what looked like a seriously dirty, shady, crony capitalist, union giveaway in the form of its call for air traffic control “privatization.” This is one of those things, like the American Health Care Act, that sounds awesome—but when you get into the details, you find out it’s awful, not conservative, and crooked Beltway pathology-driven.
Here’s the background on what’s been proposed, and by whom.
The main advocate of “privatization” is House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster. Shuster, for those unfamiliar, inherited his seat from his ethically-challenged Dad. He’s been dating the Vice President for Global Government Affairs for Airlines for America, the trade association that does Big Airline’s bidding in Washington, DC and whose top lobbying priority for several years now just so happens to have been… air traffic control privatization of exactly the kind being pushed by Shuster.
Seriously… he’s dating the lobbyist.
Anyway, the lobbyist and Shuster profess that she does not lobby him (though she presumably does other things to/with him). Whether or not that’s the case, the relationship, and Shuster’s apparent doing-of-bidding for his girlfriend’s employer, came close to nearly costing him his seat last year. He only beat a no-name Tea Party primary opponent by 1%– 1,000 votes. Then, said Tea Party primary opponent ran as a Democrat to try to oust him because of this situation. Shuster’s allies— specifically, his girlfriend’s employer and Big Labor—dropped hundreds of thousands to keep him around and beat this no-name Tea Partier, who benefited from Shuster’s local papers having taken him to the woodshed over his advocacy of this scheme which just so happens to be opposed by the Department of Defense, Grover Norquist (because it would entail big tax hikes), the Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute and Center for Individual Freedom.
Shuster won. The Tea Party opponent lost. Fast forward to this year, and Shuster is right back to pushing his scheme and trying to bring Trump on board with it. And, as of a week ago, it looked like Trump was 100% on board. Shuster was, after all, an early Trump endorser. And Shuster’s been lobbying Trump on this (presumably sans girlfriend) for a long, long time now.
Which makes this, via Politico (subscription only), pretty amusing:
On Tuesday, DJ Gribbin, President Donald Trump’s special assistant for infrastructure policy, hosted a town hall with aviation groups to hear their ideas about separating air traffic control from the FAA.
According to attendees interviewed for this article, Gribbin and his team didn’t tip their hats about their own game plan. One person in attendance said White House staff noted that they had spoken with House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and had looked at his proposal.
“It seemed like they were very familiar with the ins and outs” of Shuster’s plan, but otherwise were mostly there to listen, the person said. A White House spokeswoman confirmed the meeting, and said the administration is “still surveying all the options. We’re still in the early stages.”
This looks like something of a kick in the you-know-what to Shuster.
Perhaps the White House did some Googling, post-budget, and realized Shuster’s spin-off corporation would be dominated by big airline and union interests, who have zero interest in bringing down air traffic controllers’ salaries or benefit packages, and in fact freely admit that they want to spend more on air traffic control (as Shuster also did at an Axios transportation policy Q&A in, where else, Washington, DC, last week).
Perhaps they (correctly) conjectured that that means big new taxes.
Perhaps they noticed that with this being the case, the air traffic controllers union supports Shuster’s plan. Or perhaps they figured out thatthe Pentagon hates Shuster’s scheme because they’re worried it could impact their use of airspace, which kind of matters when you think about what happened on, you know, 9/11.
Whatever the case, it looks like early-Trump-endorsing Shuster and Trump’s nominee for Deputy Transportation Secretary, who just so happens to have lawyered for Shuster’s girlfriend’s employer, Airlines for America, haven’t actually fully sold the White House on this plan.
That’s good, because if Trump is committed to doing anything that remotely looks like draining the swamp, putting the President’s name on this plan would be a bad idea. Moreso, if Trump’s people are still interested in convincing conservatives that Trump really is conservative, and not just anti-liberal, signing onto Shuster’s specific plan would be a pretty bad idea.
Privatization can be a good policy. It’s just that Shuster’s version isn’t. The White House seems to be cottoning on to this.