Bloomberg News

Money Matters Unresolved in Partisan Peace on U.S. FAA Bill

January 26, 2012

(Updates with FAA extension approval in fifth paragraph.)

Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- A compromise reached last week that resolved an issue impeding the first long-term bill guiding U.S. aviation policy since 2007 leaves lawmakers less than a month to work out broader issues such as how much to spend.

The House’s version of the bill would cut the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget to $14.8 billion, or 15 percent below the Senate’s $17.4 billion. House and Senate transportation leaders have been meeting for months to resolve gaps in subsidies for rural air service and airport grant levels, among other issues.

The agreement announced by House and Senate leaders on Jan. 20 on union-certification votes at airlines and railroads improves the chances of reaching an agreement on remaining issues, Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a non-partisan Washington research group, said in an interview. A partisan dispute over that issue helped lead to a two-week partial shutdown of the FAA last summer.

“You get them out of the hand of party leaders and into the hand of the aviation experts and you’re much more likely to succeed,” Schank said.

The House today approved a bill proposed by Representative John Mica, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House transportation committee, to give lawmakers until Feb. 17 to resolve the remaining issues. Representative Jerry Costello, the Illinois Democrat who is chairman of the aviation subcommittee, endorsed the legislation.

The Senate must approve the bill before it can take effect. This would be the 23rd time the FAA would operate under a short- term extension since its authorizing legislation expired on Sept. 30, 2007. The current extension expires Jan. 31.

Last Extension

Mica said that this will be the last extension before Congress approves a long-term bill.

“We can get this done,” he said in a speech in the House. “This should be a bipartisan and must be a bicameral jobs bill.”

Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Commerce Committee, is also hopeful the FAA legislation can be completed soon, Vincent Morris, his spokesman, said in an e-mail.

“This FAA bill is nearly done,” Morris said.

Building Runways

The House version of the long-term FAA bill would cut annual grants to airports for new runways and terminals from the current $3.4 billion to $3 billion. The House bill would eliminate subsidies to airlines that operate flights into rural airports outside of Hawaii and Alaska starting in 2013. The Senate bill would continue the program so long as the rural airport is at least 90 miles from another commercial airport.

Another issue Mica has said is being negotiated involves how shipments of lithium batteries can be carried on cargo aircraft. The House legislation would prohibit the U.S. government from adopting tougher standards, which were proposed because the batteries can catch fire.

Lawmakers are also trying to reach a compromise on how many airline flights at Washington’s Reagan National Airport can go to destinations more than 1,250 miles away, Mica has said.

House Republicans last week agreed to drop the provision in their bill that would have overturned a National Mediation Board decision to change how union-certification votes are counted in the airline and railroad industries. In exchange, Senate leaders agreed to a study of how other government agencies conduct union votes and for greater oversight of the NMB, Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for Mica, said.

“That has cleared the way for the House and Senate committees to begin addressing the fundamental part of this bill, which is the future of aviation in this country,” Jane Calderwood, vice president for government and political affairs at the Airports Council International-North America, said in an interview.

The extension bill passed in the House today is H.R. 3800. The House’s multiyear bill is H.R. 658.

--With assistance from Michelle Jamrisko in Washington. Editors: Bernard Kohn, Andrea Snyder

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net


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