Congressional Observer: September 2005

 - October 2, 2006, 2:35 PM

— The Senate and the House closed up shop at the end of July for their customary August vacation. By that time, legislators had introduced 1,552 bills in the Senate and 3,615 in the House of Representatives, a near record. At press time Congress had passed only two of the 13 annual spending bills as the September 30 deadline approached.

H.R. 3, the $286.5 billion “Highway Bill,” was passed. The final bill contains good news and bad news for business aircraft operators. The good news is that the bill does not contain provision to further limit tax deductibility of entertainment expenses for business aircraft from top executives to all employees traveling aboard employer-provided aircraft.

The bad news is that the bill retains a provision that changes the tax rate on jet fuel by requiring operators to pay highway diesel fuel taxes and then apply for a refund for the difference between the highway tax rate and the jet fuel rate. According to the National Air Transportation Association, purchasers of jet-A or aviation-grade kerosene will now pay 24.4 cents per gallon, then apply to the Internal Revenue Service for a refund of the difference between that and the amount they actually owe, either 21.8 cents per gallon for general aviation buyers or 4.4 cents per gallon for commercial aviation use.

More bad news is that the 1,752-page bill contains 6,376 earmarked or “pork” projects that contribute to making H.R. 3 the most expensive public works legislation in history. Government spending watchdog groups were having a field day, pointing out such pork as $200,000 for a deer avoidance system in Weedsport, N.Y.; $330 million for the Centennial Corridor Loop in Bakersfield, Calif.; $480,000 to rehabilitate a historic warehouse on the Erie Canal; $2.3 million for landscaping on the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California; and, in tribute to House Transportation Committee chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), $231 million for a bridge near Anchorage to be named Don Young’s Way.

Although President Bush had threatened to veto H.R.3, he signed it into law because it took Congress nearly two years to make all the basic compromises that the President found acceptable.

— Congress was also hard at work introducing a number of other bills. Among them:

• S.1424, the “American Right To Fly Act,” introduced by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), would remove restrictions on commercial air service at Love Field, Dallas.

• S.1425, the “True Competition Act,” introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), would give effect to the original agreement entered into by Dallas and Fort Worth to build a single airport to provide for the region’s commercial air transportation needs. The bill would return to the original intent to build DFW International Airport and close Love Field to commercial air traffic.

• H.R.3337, introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to extend a requirement for the prescreening of air passengers to international flights that overfly the U.S.

• H.R.3366, the “Safe Aviation and Flight Enhancement Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), would direct the Secretary of Transportation to issue a regulation requiring the installation of a second cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data recorder system that uses combination deployable recorder technology in each commercial passenger aircraft currently required to carry each of those recorders.

• H.R.3383, the “What’s Love Got to Do With It Act,” introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), would promote commercial aviation service and economic development in the Dallas/Fort Worth region.

• H.R.3397, the “General Aviation Security Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to enhance security at general aviation airports in the U.S. The bill has a number of provisions for private- and public- use airports, among which are registering the airport with the Secretary of Homeland Security, submitting a written security plan, requiring crews to verify the identity of all aircraft passengers, maintaining a log of all transient aircraft for a minimum of five years and requiring people renting aircraft to present government-issued identification in addition to any pilot’s license.

• H.R.3424, the “Pilot Protection Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), would amend Title 18, U.S. Code, with respect to interfering with the operation of an aircraft.