2:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, this has been an eventful last few days. As I have said yesterday, we have now averted what could have been a disastrous blow to the economy. And we have identified on the front end over a trillion dollars in spending reductions that can be done sensibly and safely without affecting core programs. And we now have a committee process in Congress that is charged with finding additional savings. It’s going to be challenging work, and I’m encouraging Congress to take it with the utmost seriousness.
In the meantime, the American people have been continuing to worry about the underlying state of the economy, about jobs, about their wages, about reduced hours, about fewer customers. The economy is still weakened, partly because of some things we couldn’t control, like the Japanese earthquake and the situation in the Europe, as well as the Arab Spring and its effect on the oil crisis. Unfortunately, the debt ceiling crisis over the last month, I think, has had an unnecessary negative impact on the economy here, as well.
So I’m meeting with my Cabinet here to make sure that, even as they have been throughout these last several weeks, they are redoubling their efforts to focus on what matters most to the American people, and that is, how are we going to put people back to work; how are we going to raise their wages; increase their security; how are we going to make sure that they recover fully, as families and as communities, from the worst recession we’ve had since the Great Depression.
A good example of how undone work here in Washington can have an adverse impact on that economy is what’s going on with the Federal Aviation Administration. And I’m going to be hearing from Ray LaHood about the situation that is looming as a consequence of Congress not acting. Some of you may be aware of the fact that the FAA routinely gets its authorities extended through Congress; it’s happened 20 times since 2007. This time, Congress has decided to play some politics with it. And as a consequence, they left town without getting this extension done.
Here is what this means -- thousands of FAA workers being furloughed, including safety inspectors. It also means projects all across the country involving tens of thousands of construction workers being suspended, because Congress didn’t get its work done. And that means folks who are on construction sites, doing work and bringing home a paycheck, now potentially find themselves going home without one, and important projects all across the country are left undone.
Here’s what also happens. It turns out that this extension gives the authority to collect fees from airlines. The airlines are still collecting these fees because it’s priced into their tickets, but they’re not turning them over to the federal government, and the federal government stands to lose $200 million a week. That would be a billion dollars at a time when we’re worrying about how we pay for everything from education to Head Start. And we don’t anticipate it’s going to be easy to get that money back. Even though the airlines are collecting it, they’re keeping it.
So this is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved if Congress gets back into town and does its job. And they don’t even have to come back into town. The House and the Senate could, through a procedural agreement, basically do this through unanimous consent. And they can have the fights that they want to have when they get back. Don’t put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk. Don’t put projects at risk. And don’t let a billion dollars, at a time when we’re scrambling for every dollar we can, get left on the table because Congress did not act.
So I’m urging the House and the Senate to take care of this. This is an example of a self-inflicted wound that is unnecessary. And my expectation and I think the American people’s expectation is, is that this gets resolved before the end of this week.
All right? Thank you very much, everybody.
Q Mr. President, anything that you can do, sir? Can you intervene? Is there anything you can do?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am -- I have made calls to key leaders, and I am urging them to get this done. But this is, as I said, not the kind of situation that is complicated. All they have to do is do what they’ve done 20 times since 2007. There’s not a big issue in terms of drafting legislation or arguing about the details of policy. Just do what they’ve done in the past to make sure that these folks are on the job, including looking after the safety of our airlines.
All right? Thank you very much.
Q Are you ready for 5-0, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m going to get advice from some around the table -- (laughter) -- about how to handle this milestone. (Laughter.) All right?
END 2:11 P.M. EDT