Congressional Observer: August 2005
• The House of Representatives approved appropriations for Fiscal Year 2006 for the Department of Transportation. The House bill allocates to the FAA $14.4 billion for operations, $3.6 billion for the Airport Improvement Program, $25 million to hire some 600 new air traffic controllers and $8 million to add more safety inspectors in the aircraft certification and flight standards offices. An amendment voids the FAA contract agreement closing 38 of the current 61 Flight Service Stations and privatizing 20 of the 23 remaining stations. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation was slated to begin deliberations in the middle of last month.
• As they do every year, legislators have vowed to complete action on all government agency appropriations bills by the October 1 deadline and within the strict spending limits that Congress set for itself earlier in the year. A change in House procedure will obligate that body to produce 11 bills, while the Senate will be responsible for 12.
• President Bush’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who resigned unexpectedly, may give Democrat senators some heartburn when it comes to a vote for approval. Bush’s previous judicial nominations were headed toward a Senate filibuster when the parties reached a compromise whereby a judicial nominee could be filibustered only under “extraordinary circumstances” that include personal ethics and character but not philosophical views. If Bush’s nominee does not suit the Democrats, there may be an effort to renege on the compromise to allow a filibuster. Such action would divert Congressional attention and delay action on pending legislation.
• The brouhaha created by the failure of legislators to report and pay for trips previously funded by “private organizations” continues. As noted in The Washington Post, the data firm PoliticalMoneyLine calculated that members of Congress received more than $18 million in travel funds during the past five years, with Democrats taking 3,458 trips and Republicans taking 2,666. Those who sponsor the travel may expect “brownie” points in return for their largesse. Said points have no cash value but may possess potential negotiable returns. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was the latest to come forward and admit that she accepted $8,850 from outside sponsors for trips, some of which occurred as long as seven years ago.
Nevertheless, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the Paris Air Show, paid for by Congress. Stevens refused to reveal how many went and how much it cost the taxpayers. The trip was shrouded in secrecy because Sen. Stevens, president pro tempore of the Senate, is third in the succession line for the presidency. In 2003, in protest of France’s opposition to the Iraq war, Congress sent no delegation to the Paris show.
• S.1193, the “Commercial Airline Missile Defense Act,” introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and H.R.2780, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), are similar bills that would direct the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration to issue regulations requiring jet aircraft belonging to air carriers to be equipped with missile defense systems. Similar bills were introduced in the last session of Congress but did not move forward.
– H.R.2787, the “Promotion Responsibility for Our U.S. Aviation Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), would restore promoting civil aeronautics to the mission of the FAA.
– H.R.2895, the “Quiet Communities Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), would re-establish the Office of Noise Abatement and Control in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although the EPA established a similar office in 1978, funding was terminated in 1982 and no funds have been provided since.
– H.R.3039, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., (R-Wis.), would enact title 51, U.S. Code, “National and Commercial Space Programs” as law.
– H.R.3065, introduced by Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would extend the aviation war risk insurance program for three years.
– H.R.3070, introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), would reauthorize the human space flight, aeronautics and science programs of NASA.
– H.R.3172, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (R-N.Y.), would amend title 49, U.S. Code, to repeal the security screening opt-out programs for airport operators.