Congressional Observer: December 2004

 - February 8, 2007, 4:53 AM

• So, President George W. Bush won the election and will serve four more years in the White House. Cabinet changes are the subject of speculation, but Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta’s name has not surfaced as of press time. Troubled by back problems, Mineta may or may not stay on.

The congressional elections did not change the controlling party in either house. Republicans maintained majority control in both the Senate (55 to 44 Democrats and one Independent) and the House of Representatives (231 to 200 Democrats, one Independent and 3 Undecided), an important consideration since Republicans will chair all of the Congressional committees. The Senate has term limit rules that will cause a few changes in committee leadership, but the House has no similar rules.

In spite of all the candidates’ pre-election campaign rhetoric, it is senators and representatives who introduce legislation, debate the pros and cons and vote either for or against each proposition. The President can only suggest, cajole or push for enactment of legislation that follows through on his campaign promises. Although he can sign or veto bills that Congress has passed, he has no vote in the matters.

• Ousted from office was Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who was narrowly defeated by Republican John Thune, who seems to be favorably disposed toward general aviation. Washington pundits had claimed that Daschle, who was the Senate minority leader, was a thorn in the Administration’s side by impeding forward movement of the Republican agenda and blocking judicial appointments. Daschle is the first Senate leader in 52 years to be defeated in a bid for re-election.

Republican Senator John McCain was re-elected by a huge margin in Arizona. Although he will probably continue to be on the alert as to how Congress allocates funding and expenditures, he will relinquish chairmanship of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

• On October 22, President Bush signed into law H.R.4250, the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. The law contains, among other provisions, an extension of the “placed in service” deadline to the end of next year to qualify for the 50-percent bonus depreciation allowance for FAR Part 91 operators and limits expenses a company can deduct when a company-owned aircraft has been flown for personal use. For more detailed information.

• S.2537, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill, directs the DHS, in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Secret Service, to report by March 1, 2005, to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations the status of restoring access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and other general aviation airports within a 15-mile radius for security-qualified charter and general aviation aircraft. If history is any indicator, the agencies might postpone the deadline while coordinators coordinate, papers are shuffled and re-shuffled and impatient general aviation entities lose more patience.

As an aside, the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a Washington spending watchdog group, noted that Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) added $3 billion to the DHS bill for drought relief aimed at Midwestern and Great Plains states and that amount accounted for nearly 10 percent of the bill’s total cost. What they added had nothing to do with terrorism or national defense and for their effort CAGW named the senators October’s “Porkers of the Month.”

• Before Congress recessed on October 10, some 2,979 bills had been introduced in the Senate and 5,358 in the House of Representatives. While some of those may not be of earthshaking content, the sheer numbers present a problem of some magnitude. Bills that are not enacted before the end of the current session will die.

Although legislators detest lame-duck post-election sessions, this will be the fourth successive election year in which they will have to return to take up unfinished business. Before the election, Congress had passed just four of its 13 spending authorization bills (military operations, military construction, homeland security and the District of Columbia). As it has done in the past, Congress could combine all of the remaining appropriations bills into one large “Omnibus” bill, which can be a breeding place for more “earmarked” or pork amendments. Contentious measures could be shelved until the new Congress convenes next year. Agencies not funded would be authorized, by means of continuing resolutions, to spend at last year’s levels.

• A House-Senate conference committee failed to reach agreement on an intelligence reform and reorganization bill that has been considered the most important legislation of the last year. If the bill is readied in time, it was expected to be one of the first orders of business when Congress returned on November 16. A sticking point was whether the budgets of intelligence agencies under the Department of Defense, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the intelligence divisions of the four military branches, should be under the control of the national intelligence director.

• The Washington Post made note of a $2.065 million grant by the Department of Transportation to upgrade the Gettysburg Municipal Airport in South Dakota, currently used mostly by medical helicopters and private propeller-driven aircraft. The grant is to pay for installing a new lighting system, a lighted vertical guidance system and rebuilding a cracked and deteriorated runway to allow small jet aircraft to use the airport. Gettysburg Municipal is only a few minutes from one of Vice President Cheney’s hunting lodges where he goes to hunt the ring-necked pheasant. On previous trips, Cheney’s airplane had to land at Pierre, S.D., which is about an hour’s drive away. When the new installations are completed, Cheney will be able to land even at night in a small jet, and save precious time.