Congressional Observer: June 2005

 - October 16, 2006, 1:25 PM

• House Minority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has been the subject of months of scrutiny for alleged improprieties in accepting travel paid for by lobbyists, which has led to finger-pointing by both parties. That, in turn, has caused a number of legislators to double-check their travel records to ensure that proper procedures for travel were followed. It took no long looks into a crystal ball to predict that the scrutiny could open a larger can of worms.

Case in point was a May 5 front-page story headlined “Hill Leaders Often Take Corporate Jets,” in The Washington Post. The paper then devoted a full page to outlining which legislators took what flights provided by which companies. House and Senate rules governing payment for those flights differ a bit. If a House member rides on a corporate jet that was already scheduled to fly a particular route, the representative must pay the aircraft provider the equivalent of a first-class airline air fare. If the provider makes the flight expressly for the member, the full cost for the flight must be reimbursed. Senators must pay the first-class airline fare if the route is served by regular commercial service; they must provide full reimbursement in the absence of such service.

• Conversation about instituting general aviation user fees in lieu of aviation excise and fuel taxes surfaced in a House aviation subcommittee hearing on the financial condition of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and how to increase revenue. All general aviation interests agreed that the current tax structure is fair and equitable and that user fees would definitely not be the way to go.

• The bandwagon to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) continues to roll along. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), approved legislation that included language that orders the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to return general aviation operations to DCA within 90 days of the passage of the bill that funds the DHS for Fiscal Year 2006. The House transportation and infrastructure subcommittee approved similar legislation.

• The Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), www.cagw.org, released the 2005 Congressional Pig Book Summary, The Book Washington Doesn’t Want You to Read, which details how legislators lard up appropriations legislation with pork-barrel projects that are not requested, not specifically authorized and not competitively awarded. The group points out that for Fiscal Year 2005, there were 13,997 projects stuffed into the 13 appropriations bills for a cost of $27.3 billion. That represented an increase of 31 percent over last year’s total of 10,656 projects and 19 percent more than last year’s total cost of $22.9 billion.

Among aviation pork was $2.2 million for airfield lighting at the Monroe (La.) Regional Airport; $3 million to replace the ATC facilities at the Billings (Montana) Airport; $1 million for development of a parallel runway at Baxter County Regional Airport (Ark.); and $1.6 million to acquire and install an ILS at the Walterboro (S.C.) Municipal Airport.

• S.776, the “Federal Aviation Safety Security Act of 2005,” introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and companion bill, H.R.1474, introduced by Rep. Bernard Sanders (Ind-Vt.), would designate certain functions performed at flight service stations of the FAA as inherently governmental functions that must be performed by government employees.

• S.929, the “Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act of 2005,” introduced by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), and companion bill H.R.1871, introduced by Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.), would provide liability protection to nonprofit volunteer pilot organizations flying for public benefit and to the pilots and staffs of such organizations.

• H.R.1818, the “Airport Screener Technology Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), would make funds available for the Aviation Security Capital Fund and to establish a Checkpoint Screening Security Fund.

• H.R.2013, introduced by Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide an exemption from the air transportation tax for certain transportation by seaplanes.

• H.R.2044, the “Air Cargo Security Act,” introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish and begin implementing a system to inspect all the cargo transported on passenger airplanes and freighter aircraft.