Congressional Observer April 2004

 - March 30, 2007, 1:11 PM

With election time nearing, look for presidential candidates to fuss, fret and be defensive about government spending. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report that took issue with President Bush’s promise to cut the budget deficit in half in five years. Bush predicts a budget drop from $521 billion this year to $239 billion in 2009. But the CBO said the deficit would be $478 billion this year, fall to $258 billion in 2009 and climb to $289 billion by 2014. CBO figures are significant because legislators must use these estimates rather than those offered by the White House.

Following the CBO report, the Senate Budget Committee revealed a 2005 tax and spending plan that would shave $7 billion from Bush’s defense spending proposal, reduce domestic spending by $16 billion and cut billions of dollars for entitlement programs with the expectation that the federal deficit could be cut in half by 2007.
Whether the full Senate will approve the plan remains to be seen.

Legislators in both parties are expected to ride the coattails of their presidential candidates, with control of the Senate and the House of Representatives as the ultimate prizes.

• Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), a key member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, requested that FAA Administrator Marion Blakey hold public hearings on the national air-tour safety standards notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), which would add several requirements for existing commercial air-tour operators and mandate FAR Part 135 certification for most sightseeing operations now permitted under FAR Part 91.

“Most disconcerting is the projected economic impact of this rule,” Burns said. “By the FAA’s own admission, roughly 41 percent of the projected operators affected will be forced to exit the industry.” The National Air Transportation Association pointed out that, under current rules, sightseeing operations departing and returning to the same airport, and remaining within 25 miles of that airport, are not required to hold a commercial air carrier certificate.

• General aviation access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the effect of security measures on airport-related businesses was the subject of a March 16 field hearing by the House aviation subcommittee. Numerous previous meetings and recommendations made by the general aviation community to the Transportation Security Administration have not produced any results, and the hope was that this congressional interest would open the door to a resolution.

• Citing the long lead times for the manufacture and completion of business aircraft, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is urging Congress to extend the accelerated bonus-depreciation program that allows aircraft buyers to qualify if they acquire an aircraft and place it into service before next January 1. Charter or scheduled airline aircraft buyers must place the aircraft in service before Jan. 1, 2006.

• Two separate actions by the Department of Defense may cost manufacturing jobs and loss of revenue. The controversial lease/buy tanker program, where the U.S. Air Force would obtain new Boeing 767s for use as tankers, was put on hold in December. Nevertheless, Boeing began early production of the tankers. According to reports, Boeing spent $270 million on the program last year and $1 million a day since then. Last month DOD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated that the program would be held in abeyance until sometime next month, pending the results of an investigation as to whether Boeing and Air Force officials acted properly in negotiating the deal. In another move, Boeing selected the Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies over General Electric to furnish engines for the tankers.

In late February the U.S. Army canceled the Comanche helicopter program after spending $6.9 billion to build the stealth helicopter and said it would upgrade the current fleet and buy new helicopters that have already been combat tested. Prime contractors Boeing and Sikorsky Aircraft stand to lose $300- to $400 million in sales, and layoffs at the two companies were said to be in the works. Industry analysts suggest that the cancellation could bring about a helicopter industry consolidation since the civilian market has been somewhat stagnant.

• S.2060, introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), would prescribe regulations that permit qualified local law-enforcement officers to carry accessible weapons while on board an aircraft to the same extent and subject to the same limits as federal law-enforcement officers are permitted.

• S.2149, introduced by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), would, upon airline request, provide customs services for passengers and their baggage after normal operating hours at a customs-serviced airport, even if overtime funds are not available. In such circumstances, the appropriate customs officer will assign sufficient customs employees–if available–to perform such services, though the requesting airline would pay the overtime fees.

• H.R.3798, the Secure Existing Aviation Loopholes (SEAL) Act, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to improve aviation security. The bill calls for a system to screen or inspect all cargo that is to be transported in passenger aircraft operated by a domestic or foreign airline; allow federal air marshals on any passenger-carrying airline charter flight, every passenger flight conducted to or from the U.S. by a foreign airline and on flights of all-cargo air transportation; provide flight attendants with a discreet, secure, hands-free, wireless method of communicating with pilots; train flight attendants in elements of self defense; run background checks for all airport workers, including maintenance and catering personnel, aircraft cargo handlers and aircraft support facilities personnel; train pilots in flight-deck procedures, aircraft maneuvers and best practice to defend the aircraft; require cockpit doors between the cargo and pilot compartments; and establish no-fly zones around sensitive nuclear and chemical facilities.