Congressional Observer

 - March 26, 2007, 6:59 AM

Earmark or pork amendments were banned as the 110th Congress passed its Continuing Resolution (H.J.Res.20) to fund the nine 2007 appropriations bills that the 109th Congress neglected to complete last year. However, the funding for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security did not escape earmarking. For example, the Defense budget includes $5.5 million for the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, $4 million for the Northern Line Extension, a railway to connect the village of North Pole (population 1,778) to the village of Delta Junction (population 840) and $1.65 million to improve the shelf life of vegetables.

Washington legislative watchdogs noted that several unidentified lawmakers privately called federal agencies asking for their requests for pet projects as a means of circumventing the prohibition of earmarks. In response, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a directive that instructed agencies “not to obligate funds on the basis of earmarks contained in Congressional reports or documents or documents or other written or oral communications regarding earmarks.”

Travel rules passed by the House and Senate limited lobbyist-funded travel, but lobbyists can still ante up for one-day trips for lawmakers to visit a site, give a speech, attend a forum or sit on a panel. New guidelines issued by the House Ethics Committee allow lobbyists to pay for a second night stay if the committee determines “that such expenses are necessary due to availability of transportation to or from the event, or in those circumstances when an additional night’s stay is practically required in order to facilitate the individual’s full participation in the event.”

According to the guidelines, members of Congress and staff can travel first-class or use a chartered or private airplane if genuine security circumstances require it, if the scheduled flight time exceeds 14 hours and if the member can demonstrate that the cost of the travel is not higher than the cost of business-class transportation “if the traveler uses the traveler’s own frequent flier or similar benefits to upgrade to first class.”

Former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) reported to a federal prison in West Virginia to begin serving a 30-month sentence for corruption as a result of his activities with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney, who drew an annual Congressional salary of $165,000, will earn a prison wage of 12 to 40 cents an hour depending on his prison job and will sleep on a bunk bed in a room with 12 other inmates.

 Despite the fact that the FBI found $90,000 in marked bills stuffed inside frozen food containers in the home of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Democrats appointed him to a seat on the Homeland Security Committee. The FBI videotaped Jefferson accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant who was wearing a wire.

 As of early March there were 1,326 bills introduced in the House and 764 in the Senate. Among aviation-related bills were:

  • S.678, the “Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2007,” introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to ensure air passengers have access to necessary services while on a grounded air carrier and are not unnecessarily held on a grounded air carrier before or after a flight. Boxer cited a JetBlue flight that sat on the tarmac at New York JFK International Airport for 11 hours and an American Airlines flight that was on the tarmac for nine hours.

  • A similar bill is under consideration in the House. H.R.1303, the “Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to improve air carrier passenger services. The bill would treat air carrier diversions, delays and cancellations, chronically delayed flights, publication of air carrier fare information and procedures for departure delays and other issues.

  • H.R.1106, the “Promotion Responsibility for Our U.S. Aviation Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Todd Tiahart (R-Kan.) would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to restore promoting civil aeronautics to the mission of the FAA.
  • H.R.1125, the “Freedom to Fly Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), would modify the FAA’s age-60 retirement standard for airline pilots. The bill would allow airline pilots to fly until they reach age 65 if they are serving as a required pilot in multi-crew aircraft operations with another pilot who is not yet 60 years old.