Congressional Observer: August 2007

 - July 24, 2007, 6:40 AM

• The Senate by a vote of 53-46 rejected new laws pertaining to immigration. The vote, which pundits consider a crushing defeat for President Bush, fell 14 votes shy of the 60 needed to limit debate and establish an up-or-down vote. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had no choice but to pull the bill for the second time in a month. There is little likelihood that another immigration bill will come up again until after the 2008 elections.

• Meanwhile, the Democratic Congress’ job approval rating plunged to 23 percent, worse than the approval score for President Bush. Republicans have criticized the Democrats for their failure to come to terms with earmarked amendments or “pork” spending and are scouting the country to challenge weak Democrats in the coming election.

Earmarking continued to draw considerable attention from Washington watchdog groups that have been seeking earmark transparency. House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) had to back down from his plan to make earmarks unavailable for public scrutiny in the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2008. That plan would have gutted new earmark rules enacted in January by taking away any opportunity for House members to debate and vote on an earmark’s merits on the House floor. Obey and his staff had intended to view the more than 30,000 earmark requests and to make available this month those that passed muster with him and his staff. The result would have been that those pork projects would have been included in House-Senate conference reports, not subject to amendments, thereby leaving no opportunity for challenging an individual project. The haggling on how much to disclose and what to do will continue.
At press time a number of aviation bills were in the hopper:

- S.1751, the “Rural Aviation Improvement Act,” introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), would reform the Essential Air Service program.

- S.1735, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to improve dispute resolution provisions related to the FAA personnel management system.

- H.R.2662, introduced by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), would require the Secretary of Transportation to collect certain data pertaining to canceled and diverted flights of airlines.

- H.R.2673, the “Federal Aviation Administration Fair Labor Management Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to facilitate the resolution of disputes between the Administrator of the FAA and agency employees in the course of collective negotiations.

- H.R.2684, the “FAA Aviation Safety Research Assessment Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), would authorize an independent review of the FAA’s aviation safety-related research programs, particularly those programs related to ATC, runway incursions and flight deck/maintenance system integration human factors.

- H.R.2698, the “Federal Aviation Research and Development Reauthorization Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), would authorize appropriations for civil aviation research and development projects and activities of the FAA.

- H.R.2872, the “LAX Community Safety Act,” introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would prohibit the Secretary of Transportation from approving, under Subtitle VII of Title 49, U.S. Code, any project for the relocation of Runway 24R at
Los Angeles International Airport.

- H.R.2881, the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), 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 provide stable funding for the national aviation system. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure recommended a change in jet fuel tax from 21.8 cents per gallon to 30.7 cents per gallon and an increase in avgas tax from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents. A committee-passed amendment would roll back a contract imposed on air traffic controllers by the government and send both sides back to the negotiating table. The White House has threatened to veto any legislation that rolls back the controllers’ contract.

- H.R. 2912, the “Transport Aircraft Fuel Tank Safety Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.), would require the FAA Administrator to finalize the proposed rule relating to the reduction of fuel tank flammability exposure. n汥