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Tue, May 06, 2008

Senate Vote Halts Progress On FAA Funding Bill

Hopes Dim For Passage This Term

What's the opposite of progress? If you answered "Congress," you're not far off the mark... as a Tuesday vote in the US Senate has all-but-guaranteed we won't see passage of an FAA reauthorization bill this year.

CNN reports senators voted 49-42 to limit debate on adding a number of extra amendments to the bill... many of which have nothing to do with aviation. That total fell short of the 60 votes necessary to end the political wrangling, and to send the bill onto the Senate floor as-is.

Republican lawmakers voted nearly unanimously against ending debate, saying several amendments proposed by Democrats -- including money for New York rail expansion, and adding money to the highway trust fund -- had no place on a bill to modernize air travel, and should be voted off the funding measure.

Senate aides expressed some hope the bill, S.1300, would reach a vote, saying a number of senators will continue work towards an agreement... but it's unlikely such a bill would come to fruition before current funding for the FAA expires June 30, leading some lawmakers to already propose yet another short-term extension so the agency will continue to function.

There is also talk the Senate could vote to extend agency funding at current levels for 15 months, until September 2009, unless the current stalemate is broken.

As ANN reported, debate on S.1300 came to a screeching halt last week, after lawmakers clashed over an amendment setting stricter rules for airline contributions to their employee pension funds. When debate to end that loophole was dropped, attention turned to a slew of unrelated riders lawmakers attempted to attach to the bill, including the call to boost highway spending.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of the FAA reauthorization bill, H.R. 2881, last September... but the Senate plan had been stalled in committee until a compromise between Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and John Rockefeller (D-WV, shown at right) -- chairmen of the Senate Finance and Commerce Committees, respectively -- broke the logjam, and permitted the bill to reach the Senate floor April 28.

Rockefeller expressed dismay the bill is once again stalled, saying the money is needed to modernize the nation's air traffic control system ahead of projected growth in passenger travel by 2025. "A billion passengers are going to be using it, and they're going to be using it on a Polaroid-camera technology system," he said.

Phil Boyer, president of the 415,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said he was "disappointed" to see the Senate stall once again on the compromise bill... but added a note of optimism.

"Even though Tuesday’s vote to limit debate on the measure failed, there are still two months left before the current temporary funding measure expires," Boyer said. "Our hope is that the Senate will be able to reach agreement on this crucial legislation during that time and pass a bill that funds the FAA, including the Airport Improvement Program and air traffic control modernization, and does so using the current tax-based funding system."

One unnamed Senate Democrat aide said if Republicans won't allow the current bill through the process... Democrats will probably use expected gains in the upcoming elections to push through an FAA funding plan those Republican lawmakers will like even less.

FMI: www.senate.gov, www.faa.gov

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