• Even though the Senate and the House of Representatives did not sit in session during August, a multitude of committee and subcommittee meetings convened during this period to look into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the aftermath and how to avoid such events in the future.
When both legislative bodies returned on September 6 they faced a full plate of unfinished business and, while doing so, had to bear in mind the November elections. Legislators will keep close tabs on how the presidential race is running and how the outcome might affect the balance of power in both houses of Congress. Administration program proposals notwithstanding, it is Congress that decides what will become the law of the land, and party majorities play a huge part in which legislation moves and which does not.
• Legislators up for election will take the opportunity to point to what they believe they have done for their constituency. This is where those “earmarked” or “pork barrel” amendments to the various appropriations bills will come into play, and there will still be time for more pulled pork as Congress deliberates on government agency appropriations for the next fiscal year.
First case in point was the $416 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Defense, which Congress larded with some 2,000 earmarked amendments. None had been included in the budget put together by the DOD or the Office of Management and Budget and few had been evaluated objectively by the Congressional Budget Office or the Government Accountability Office. The cost for those pigs in a poke came to about $8.9 billion.
• On the first day of Senate business, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced that his goal was to finish this session of Congress by October 8; in view of the backlog of pending legislation, that would be quite an achievement. Frist stated that the Homeland Security appropriations bill would have a considerable amount of priority, and he sounded a warning to pork lovers.
“In the past,” said Frist, “there have been efforts to bog down the process with unrelated, non-germane amendments. We should all agree, and we do all agree, that homeland security should not be used to advance separate, unrelated political issues.” He was hopeful that a bill that is appropriately debated and amended will be passed, signed and enacted before Congress adjourns and outlined three major areas that the Senate has to address. First is legislation to reform intelligence analysis and coordination in the executive branch. Second is the confirmation of a new Central Intelligence Agency director, and third is defining the Senate’s role in oversight of intelligence and homeland security.
• Still begging for attention is that unrequited provision in H.R.2115, the “Vision 100–Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act” that would provide $100 million in financial assistance to general aviation entities that were hit hard by 9/11. James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, addressed a letter to all members of Congress and pointed out that the airlines were allowed to operate within a few days of the terrorist attacks and received $5 billion in grants. He pointed out that it took months for general aviation to return to some normalcy and that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport remains closed to general aviation aircraft. Businesses eligible for financial relief include fixed based operators, flight schools, manufacturers and general aviation contractors.
• Even though the House of Representatives and the Senate approved legislation that would provide a 12-month extension, to December 31 next year, of bonus tax benefits for sales of general aviation aircraft, a joint conference committee formed to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions has the legislation lingering in the holding pattern. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) considers this legislation vital to increased airplane sales and is exerting all the pressure it can to move the bills out of conference committee and into law.
• H.R.4226, “The Cape Town Treaty Implementation Act of 2004,” introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), was passed and sent on to the President for his signature. The bill makes certain conforming changes to provisions governing the registration of aircraft and the recording of instruments to implement the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment and the Protocol to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment on Matters Specific to Aircraft Equipment.
• A move by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) to restore language in the FAA’s original charter that would state that one of the FAA’s missions is to promote aviation in the U.S. was rejected for procedural reasons by a voice vote in the House Appropriations Committee. Promotion was a part of the FAA’s mission statement until 1996, when Congress removed it in the FAA’s reauthorization legislation. NATA president James Coyne thanked Tiahrt for his efforts, stating that the issue has been neglected for too long and that there is a need once again to have an agency of the federal government responsible for promoting a strong and efficient aviation industry in this country.
• Number crunchers will be interested to learn that the Congressional Budget Office lowered its estimated deficit for this year to $422 billion, a decrease of $56 billion from its March projections, and attributed the change to an increase in tax revenues. Nevertheless, the $422 billion shortfall is still the largest in history.