Congressional Observer: June 2007

 - June 7, 2007, 6:27 AM

• As anticipated, President Bush vetoed the $124 billion bill for funding military operations. The bill would have required the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as early as next month. And, also as anticipated, the House, by a vote of 222 to 203, failed to override the veto. White House aides and lawmakers were to hammer out a new bill that would be acceptable to the President and have it ready before Congress takes its Memorial Day break. Options on the table were a two-month funding bill that would pay for Bush’s “surge” plan and a bill that would cover war costs until the end of the fiscal year (September 30).

The vetoed bill contained some $20 billion for earmarked or “pork” projects, a new high for pork in an emergency spending bill. Among the projects was $283 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract program, $100 million for a citrus program, $100 million for next year’s Democratic and Republican conventions, $74 million for peanut storage and $20 million for Mormon cricket eradication.

• In the opening weeks of the 110th Congress, Democrats outlined an ambitious agenda to show the citizenry what a new regime could do about upgrading homeland security, providing a higher minimum wage, reducing student loan interest rates and ensuring federal funding for stem cell research. However, aside from passing a huge appropriations bill for government agencies that the 109th Congress left undone last year, the 110th Congress had enacted and signed into law none of the priority items on the Democrats’ agenda.

Through April, President Bush signed 16 measures that included renaming six post offices and two courthouses. Washington pundits have commented that the “do nothing” tag the Democrats pinned on the Republican-controlled 109th Congress could be applied to the 110th Congress if bills do not move forward.

Despite the lack of progress on current bills, there has been no slowdown in the number of bills introduced in both houses of Congress. As of early last month, 2,198 bills had been submitted in the House and 1,324 in the Senate.

• The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported that lawmakers have been taking significantly fewer privately funded trips due to the limits imposed on congressional travel by the House and the Senate. Between January 1 and March 9 last year, there were 728 trips worth an estimated $1.5 million. In the same period this year there were 129 trips with an estimated value of $244,000. On disclosure forms, legislators have listed speeches, conventions or “fact-finding” missions as the purpose for these trips.

• Several aviation bills have been introduced:

- H.R.1981, introduced by Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to direct the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (Transportation Security Administration) to issue regulations establishing security standards for foreign repair stations performing maintenance for aircraft used to provide air transportation.

- H.R.2008, the “Airline Personnel Training Enhancement Act,” introduced by Rep. Mark Udall (D-N.M.), would direct the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations that require air carriers to provide initial and annual training for flight and gate attendants regarding serving alcohol, dealing with disruptive passengers and recognizing intoxicated people. The training shall include situational training on methods of handling an intoxicated person who is belligerent.

- S.1085, the “Informed Air Traveler Act of 2007,” introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), would require air carriers to publish customer service data and flight delay history.

- S.1095, the “Airport Security Enhancement Act of 2007” introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would require airports to screen all individuals with access to the secure areas of an airport on arrival. The bill includes large, medium, small and non-hub airports.

- S.1300, the “Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007,” introduced by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), with Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) as co-sponsors, would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to authorize appropriations for the FAA for Fiscal Years 2008 through 2011, to improve aviation safety and capacity and to modernize the ATC system.