Congressional Observer: June 2004
Ah, yes, there is considerable trouble in River City, and it isn’t a pool hall like in the 1950s Broadway musical. In this case, the river is the Potomac, the city is Washington and the trouble is that the Senate Republicans and Democrats do not seem to be able to join hands to break through their agonizingly slow pace and move forward to pass stalled legislation. High on the legislative list are issues concerning energy and welfare, compensation for asbestos victims and putting limits on medical malpractice suits. With election time coming in November and both parties vying for control of the Senate, partisanship has created legislative roadblocks. For example, Democrats are irked at being excluded from final decisions on bills and are holding up House-Senate conferences on a number of measures, including the huge highway funding bill.
Outspoken Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said privately, “Why don’t we just go home rather than go through this charade of telling Americans we are legislating.” On the other side, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said the Senate “has turned out to be a factory that manufactures sound-bite votes that make great fodder for 30-second political ads but do little to advance important legislation.”
With more than 2,000 bills introduced in the Senate and some 4,000 in the House this session, perhaps Congress would do well to shoot a few games of give-and-take pool to relieve the tension.
• Meanwhile, Democrats on both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees want President Bush to comply with reporting requirements set by Congress for the use of the $40 billion emergency fund that was approved three days after 9/11. The fund was to assist victims of the attacks, counter any new attacks at home and abroad and strengthen national security, and the law required the White House to send Congress quarterly reports on the use of the money. Democrats say Congress has no record that the Pentagon consulted Congress on the use of $178 million that funded 21 Pentagon projects in the Persian Gulf. The White House Office of Management and Budget responded by saying, “The President asked for and Congress provided unprecedented flexibility for funds to wage the war on terrorism. Since then, the administration has kept Congress informed.”
• Citizens Against Government Waste, Washington’s very vocal watchdog over government spending, released the 2004 Congressional Pig Book, an annual review of pork-barrel spending. The 13 appropriations bills in fiscal year 2004 were larded with a record 10,656 “earmarked” or “pork” amendments, representing a 13-percent increase over last year’s 9,362 and reaching a new spending high of $22.9 billion.
For a change, aviation interests were among the pork projects, and included were $3.5 million to design and build a passenger terminal and construct a maintenance hangar at the Somerset Airport in Kentucky; $9 million for various improvements to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; $2.5 million for improvements to the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport in Kansas; $1.5 million for various improvements at the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport in Ohio; $250,000 for improvements at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum; and $750,000 for the Hobbs Industrial Airpark in New Mexico.
• H.R.4056, the Commercial Aviation Manpads Act of 2004, introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), would encourage the establishment of long- and short-term programs to address the threat of man-portable air defense systems (Manpads). The bill would require the FAA to speed certification of anti-missile systems and encourage the President to use diplomatic action
to reduce the prevalence of shoulder-fired missiles on the international black market.
• H.R.4226, the Cape Town Treaty Implementation Act of 2004, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would amend title 49, U.S. Code, to make certain conforming changes to provisions governing the registration of aircraft and the recording of instruments to implement the Convention on International Interests and Mobile Equipment and the Protocol to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment on Matters Specific to Aircraft Equipment, known as the “Cape Town Treaty.” The House transportation and infrastructure aviation subcommittee approved this bill in late April. If it is passed, aircraft manufacturers would reap economic benefits, have better access to financing and see a reduction in financial risk internationally.
• A telephone inquiry to Rep. Mica’s office regarding his efforts to open Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to general aviation traffic brought the response that Mica considered this to be a “high priority” item for this self-described “persistent bastard,” but there was no definitive movement at this time.