Congressional Observer: July 2004
Wondering if the 108th Congress has been busy? By early last month, the Senate saw 2,505 bills introduced and the House of Representatives, 4,520. Those figures are impressive and would indicate positive legislative activity. However, Washington realists tend to look at the number of bills that have been enacted into legislation and come up with figures that indicate that the good intentions of legislators do not necessarily translate into results.
For example, and more specifically, bills of interest to aviation have not fared well. In the Senate, 15 aviation-related bills were introduced dealing, in some instances, with expanding aviation capacity in the Chicago area; the arming of cargo pilots; liability protection to nonprofit volunteer organizations flying for public benefit; improving training requirements for and requiring the certification of cabin crewmembers; and providing customs services after hours. The only bill to make it into law was S.829, introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and subsequently merged into H.R.2115, the “Flight 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2003,” introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a bill that reauthorized the FAA.
There were 35 bills introduced in the House that related to aviation, and several were companion bills to those introduced in the Senate, such as expanding aviation capacity in the Chicago area; arming cargo pilots; establishing training requirements for cabin crewmembers; and providing liability protection to nonprofit volunteer pilot organizations. Other bills touched on limiting the age restrictions imposed by the FAA Administrator for the issuance or renewal of certain airman certificates; improving air-cargo security by requiring the inspection of cargo carried aboard passenger aircraft and regular inspections of air-cargo shipping facilities; and providing economic relief to general aviation small business concerns that suffered substantial economic injury as a result of 9/11. Only H.R.2115, as previously noted, was enacted.
All Senate and House bills are referred to various subcommittees for review and consideration. Those meriting action are then submitted to the full committees (Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) for approval before going to the floor for a vote by both legislative bodies.
To date, most bills are in the committee holding patterns, with no estimates as to movement.
• The Senate approved the Jumpstart Our Business Strength Act, which contains a provision for extending, throughout next year, the accelerated bonus depreciation “place in service” date due to expire at the end of this year for newly purchased general aviation aircraft. The House was to consider a broader approach that would allow an aircraft to be ordered and placed into service by December 31 next year. If passed by the House, both Senate and House bills will be subjected to review by a joint conference committee to resolve differences. Timing is of apparent concern to aircraft sellers, with Congress planning for adjournment on October 1 and elections coming up in November.
• Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) has not been impressed with what the House did during a 42-day period since April 1, when the House was in session for only 12 days. Said Emanuel, “We have named eight post offices, recognized the Garden Club of America, recognized the importance of music education and authorized the use of the Capitol grounds for the Soap Box Derby.”
• On another note, Rep. Emanuel and 10 other Democrat cosponsors introduced H.R.4352, the “Corporate Jet Tax Shelter Reform Act of 2004,” which would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to deny a deduction for the portion of employer-provided vacation flights in excess of the amount of such flights that is treated as employee compensation. In Emanuel’s view, the loophole that needs plugging is the one that “allows executives who fly in corporate jets for personal travel to write off this perk for about half the price of a round-trip first-class ticket from New York to Los Angeles while, at the same time, the executive’s company is permitted to take a full tax deduction for the costs of owning and operating the airplane.” According to Emanuel, this loophole costs the U.S. $287 million a year, which adds up to $2.87 billion over the next 10 years.
• Feisty Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, before a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), let loose a blast that compared the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with “a Soviet-style centralized bureaucracy serving 440 airports.” Mica does not believe that the TSA is able to address the security needs of those 440 airports. In a report to Congress, the DHS inspector general has said that private screeners and TSA employees were
• “Codel” is an acronym for “congressional delegation” in which the military organizes foreign travel to facilitate Congress’s constitutional oversight and advisory duties. Coming under heavy criticism by legislators, whose concern was the misspending of official money and the impact on the codel system, was the codel of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) that took 17 congressional staff and six military aides on a seven-day trip to Ireland and Hungary in April. Critics opined that there were too many staff members on the trip and not enough work to go around.