Congressional Observer: July 2005

 - October 10, 2006, 9:31 AM

– The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration finally surrendered to Congressional pressure and offered a plan to open Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to general aviation traffic. That plan includes a number of stringent rules, so business aircraft operators will have to decide whether landing at DCA as a convenience to passengers merits compliance with those rules or whether it is preferable to go to Dulles or Baltimore International and accept the additional travel time to downtown Washington, D.C.

– The Senate passed the “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act,” more popularly known as “The Highway Bill.” The bill has two provisions which, if signed into law, could bug business aviation. One amendment would expand to all employees the limitation on the deductibility of business expenses for entertainment use of employer-provided aircraft. A second amendment could change the procedures for paying the fuel tax on jet fuel. Since Senate and House versions of the bill differ, the bill will go to a negotiating conference for resolution.

– “Pork,” or earmarked amendments to appropriations bills, has caught the attention of Washington newspapers. The Washington Post zeroed in on House Speaker Dennis Hastert (D-Ill.) for earmarking some $24 million in grants to local entities since 1999. The earmarked items include nearly $4.7 million for the Rush-Copley Medical Center to purchase equipment, $9.8 million for Aurora University and $7.5 million for a library at Judson College, in Elgin, Ill.

The Washington Times took note of the $1.5 million that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) provided for a new bus stop outside the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Locals did not ask for the money but now intend to build a “showpiece stop” that they say is still five to 50 times the typical cost of bus stop improvements in Anchorage. The Citizens Against Government Waste, a spending watchdog group, pointed out that this year, Stevens earmarked more than $645 million.

– At press time a number of aviation-related bills were under consideration in Congress. They include:

• H.R.1817, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act for FY2006, would authorize $34.2 billion to fund the agency’s major operations. The Citizens Against Government Waste points out that the “hollowed out” agency budget includes such items as port security for a landlocked state; Dale Carnegie courses for sanitation workers; bulletproof dog vests; a security trailer to transport riding lawnmowers to the annual lawnmower races; air-conditioned garbage trucks; and a decontamination unit that has been stored in a warehouse for a year.

• S.1052, the “Transportation Security Improvement Act of 2005,” introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), has provisions that address airline security fees, screener training review and repair station security.

• S.1102, introduced by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), would extend the aviation war-risk insurance program for three years.

• H.R.2649, the “Strengthen Aviation Security Act,” introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), has a number of provisions, such as security requirements for general aviation that include no-fly zones around sensitive nuclear and chemical facilities and a requirement for operators of airports that serve general aviation aircraft to complete vulnerability assessments developed by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The bill also includes requirements to improve control over access to the secure area of each airport in the U.S., background checks for airport workers and the screening of airport workers who use metal detectors.

• H.R.2646, the “Right to Fly Act,” introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), would eliminate certain restrictions on air transportation to and from Dallas Love Field.

• H.R.2688, the “Guaranteeing Airport Physical Screening Standards Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), would amend Title 49 of the U.S. Code to establish a deadline for the screening of all individuals, goods, property, vehicles and other equipment entering a secure area of an airport.

• In mid-May, the Bureau of Public Debt stated that the national debt stood at $7,753,671,705,649.72. Citizens would have to ante up $26,188.26 each to repay the national debt, which grows by an estimated $1.7 billion every day.