Congressional Observer: May 2005

 - November 2, 2006, 7:14 AM

• Before Congress took a couple of weeks off beginning on March 20, there were 687 bills introduced in the Senate and 1,454 in the House of Representatives. The pace may prove to be record-setting. During the recess, however, legislators took time to concern themselves with the use of steroids by baseball players and the Theresa Schiavo case in Florida. In the meantime, President Bush was stumping to urge support for his plans to change the Social Security benefits.

The major issue facing Congress on its return in early April appeared to be reaching agreement on the $2.5 trillion 2006 federal budget. Since the House and the Senate passed different versions of the budget resolution, there may be some reconciliation difficulties. The federal budget deficit of some $400 billion is of concern and legislators will strive to determine how much to spend on what agencies and programs. The FAA budget cuts are of concern to aviation interests for they may signal a cutback in various essential services.

Legislators have made no public announcements as to how to reduce earmarked or “pork” amendments, which are sacred to them.

Speaking of “pork,” it should be noted that the House approved a $284 billion transportation bill that contained more than 4,000 earmarked or “pork” projects, among them $4 million for a graffiti elimination project in New York City, $10 million for a new parking garage at the city’s Harlem Hospital Center and $1.5 million for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

What may slow any legislative progress is the threat by Senate Democrats to resort to filibusters, which the Republicans denounce, over judicial nominations, which have been a sticky wicket for some time. Democrats appear to have no quarrel with the judicial nominees’ ethics or any inappropriate activity but object because the nominees share the philosophies of the President.

• Two relatively important aviation hearings scheduled for early April were postponed, with the death of Pope John Paul II cited as the reason for the change. One was a hearing by the House aviation subcommittee on “Transforming the Federal Aviation Administration: a Review of the Air Traffic Organization and the Joint Program Development Office.” The other was a hearing by the House committee on government reform that was to consider the economic and security impact of restoring general aviation flights into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). At press time, those hearings had not been rescheduled.

• H.R.1496, introduced by Rep. Dan Young (D-Alaska), is a bill to return general aviation to DCA. The bill is in addition to H.R.911 and S.433, the “Reopen Reagan National to General Aviation Act of 2005.”

In other activity relating to DCA, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, ordered David Stone, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and now due to depart the TSA in June, to make a report to Congress by April 1 as to reopening DCA to security-qualified charter and general aviation operations. There was a Congressional mandate for the TSA to submit a report by March 1, but the TSA failed to do so. Stone responded that TSA had a report ready for signature by the new Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff.

Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), whose district includes DCA and who has been all for reopening DCA, was less than enthusiastic about the possibilities and told local newspapers, “Security folks, the Secret Service in particular, have trumped any other concern, economic or rational.”

The Metropolitan Airports Authority, which operates DCA under a contract with the federal government, also endorses the return of general aviation traffic to DCA. CEO James Bennett indicated that security concerns could be accommodated if general aviation were allowed to return.

• S.688, introduced by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to clarify excise tax exemptions for aerial applicators of fertilizers or other substances.

• H.R.1400, the “Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2005,” introduced by Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), would provide penalties for aiming laser pointers at airplanes.

• H.R.1474, introduced by Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), would designate certain functions performed at flight service stations as inherently governmental functions.