Congressional Observer: June 2002

 - October 9, 2007, 9:09 AM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has raised its estimates of budget deficits. Earlier this year, the prediction was for a deficit of $46 billion for the current fiscal year. However, individual tax receipts were recently projected to run some $40 billion below expectations, and that has caused experts to guess that the deficit could go upwards of $70 billion. Congress has been considering President Bush’s request for a $27 billion supplemental spending bill with $10 to $15 billion to be spent this fiscal year. That could bring the overall deficit to above $100 billion, compared with a surplus of $127 billion in the previous fiscal year.

• Congressional “pork” projects, that nifty way legislators have in attaching unassailable “earmarked” projects to various appropriations bills, does not indicate any great concern with projected deficits and spending. The 2002 Congressional Pig Book Summary, published by and available through the Citizens Against Government Waste (P.O. Box 96564, Washington, DC, 20077-7200) for $25, points out that appropriators tacked 8,341 projects in 13 appropriations bills at a cost of $20.1 billion.

According to the Pig Book, Alaska again led the nation with $711 per capita ($451 million), Hawaii was next with $353 per capita ($432 million) and West Virginia ranked third with $215 per capita ($388 million). Some of the more interesting chunks of pork:

By Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), $24 million for water and waste disposal systems in Alaska, $720,000 for seafood waste and $10.2 million to realign railroad tracks at the Elmendorf Air Force Base ($10 million was appropriated for the same purpose in FY 2001). By Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), $4.5 million for the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C. And Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) added into a bill $600,000 for a school-to-work curriculum focused on careers in travel and tourism at the American Airlines Travel Academy.

In the House, $750,000 for minority aviation training at the William Lehman Aviation Center at Florida Memorial College in the district of Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) to help develop minority aviators and skilled aviation workers for the military and private sector. School officials say the federal funds will provide scholarships for tuition, room and board for 12 students, which comes to $41,000 per year per student.

• The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved S.2039, a bill to expand aviation capacity in the Chicago area sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The bill would modify runways at O’Hare Airport, build a third area airport in Peotone, Ill., and preserve Meigs Field until the year 2026. The bill was sent on to the full Senate for a vote but no timetable was set.

• The National Air Transportation Association was up in arms about President Bush’s letter to House leaders opposing H.R.3347, the “General Aviation Industry Reparations Act of 2001,” sponsored by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), just about the time it was due to come to the floor for a vote. Said NATA, “For the federal government to shut down general aviation and not provide a penny in financial assistance to those businesses affected yet give billions to the major airlines is the definition of hypocrisy.”

And, as if to lend emphasis to Bush’s views, the DOT sent a formal letter to Rep. Dan Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, indicating its opposition to H.R.3347. That prompted NBAA to urge members to contact their congressmen and ask support for the bill. With the opposition of the Administration and DOT, the bill faces a substantial challenge for survival.

• DOT Secretary Norman Mineta had a tough time during an early May hearing held by the Senate Appropriations Committee as to how much money was needed to do a good job in creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), including reimbursing individual airports for costs involved with new security measures. Said committee chairman Sen. Byrd, “If you need additional funds, let us know–and soon.” Committee members indicated their displeasure that neither the TSA’s $2.4 billion for this year nor its request for $4.4 billion in supplemental spending included any money to reimburse airports for security costs. Mineta’s response was that airports could use money from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to recoup security costs even though AIP money was not intended for that purpose. “I don’t think that’s a good answer,” said Byrd.

• H.R.4481, the “Airport Streamlining Approval Process Act of 2001,” introduced by Rep. Young, would have the Secretary of Transportation develop and implement a coordinated review process for airport capacity enhancement projects at congested airports.

• H.R.4635, the “Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act,” also introduced by Rep. Young, would establish a federal flight-deck officer program that would require the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security to establish a program to deputize qualified pilots of passenger aircraft as federal law-enforcement officers to defend the flight decks of air carrier aircraft against acts of criminal violence or air piracy. The bill would authorize a federal flight-deck officer to carry a firearm while providing air transportation. The bill would take the authority to make the decision away from the Transportation Security Administration and would run counter to the Bush Administration policies opposing guns for pilots.

• H.R.4650, the “Aviation Biometric Badge Act,” introduced by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), would require that each individual employed as a security screener be issued a biometric security badge that identifies a person by fingerprint or retinal recognition.

• As of the end of April there were 4,661 bills introduced in the House, and 2,455 in the Senate. As the November elections near, voters can expect their local legislators to support or introduce bills that would benefit their constituencies.