WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress has once again failed to act on FAA reauthorization and been forced to pass another short-term extension to keep the agency in business.
This latest extension, like the several before it, is for three months, expiring Dec. 31.
The House was first to act, as it was when okaying the full extension. The Senate never moved on the full extension. Although the Senate had not acted on a temporary extension when this was written, only a miracle could keep the FAA going without it.
The reason for the inaction given by the lawmakers is that the health care issue is taking up all the floor time, forcing other discussions to take a back seat — and the Senate wants discussion on FAA reauthorization.
Although the President and lawmakers stress the urgency of moving on health care, reports are that even if the Senate version is passed and combined with the House legislation and new health care legislation is finally agreed upon, the new health care laws won’t be effective until the end of next year. Like everything else in government, it is “hurry up and wait.” If and when the Senate passes health care legislation, much discussion will have to take place with the House before it becomes law. There are many important differences between the two. Some in town suspect Congress will not get health care legislation passed this year.
When the Senate does get around to thinking about issues other than the President’s health care reform — like FAA reauthorization — the issue of user fees will arise. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, is a strong supporter of user fees and he doesn’t give up easily.
The House version, passed last year, does not include user fees. Many Congressional representatives are firmly opposed to user fees, which sets the stage for a heated debate.
In addition to the differences over user fees, there are other policy differences. For example, the House bill would allow airports to raise passenger facility charges from $4.50 to $7 a ticket — something the airports like but the airlines do not. Also, European countries are angry. The House bill directs more U.S. inspections of overseas aircraft repair stations. Another provision of the House bill would make it easier for unions to organize FedEx employees and other non-aviation employees.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.