Congressional Observer: July 2002

 - April 21, 2008, 6:12 AM

The Bush Administration has proposed spending $759 billion next year for government agencies and programs other than Social Security, but more than half has been earmarked (not to be confused with pork-barrel earmarking) for the military, homeland security and foreign aid. This leaves some $316 billion for all other discretionary government programs and, according to Senate Budget Committee calculations, this is about 3.3 percent below this year’s level.

Consequently, government agencies will be scrambling for sufficient money to maintain their programs. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said Congress and the Administration will have to come up with at least $11 billion more for domestic spending bills in an election year. Both the Senate and House appropriators will be working on spending bills for the fiscal year that begins October 1.

The budget constraints do not bode well for passage of H.R.3347, the “General Aviation Industry Reparations Act of 2001,” introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), and S.2007, a similar bill that was introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). The House bill was approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure but the Senate bill did not move forward. Those bills would provide $2.5 billion in grant funding and $3 billion in loan guarantees, which are relatively small amounts when compared to congressional largesse in other areas, but general aviation does not have as much clout as other interests vying for appropriation money.

• During a late May Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on aviation security, Transportation Security Administration Under Secretary John Magaw said, “The cockpit in the aircraft is for the pilots to maintain positive control of the aircraft” and rejected a request by the Air Line Pilots Association to arm pilots in the wake of September 11.

However, not all lawmakers were in accord. Two similar bills, termed as the “Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act,” were promptly introduced–S.2546 by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and H.R.4635 by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)–that would deputize qualified volunteer pilots as federal law-enforcement officers to defend the cockpits of commercial aircraft in flight against acts of criminal violence or piracy and authorize those pilots to carry firearms.

In the same hearing, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) asked DOT Secretary Norman Mineta if aviation trust fund money dedicated to the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) would be used to fund aviation security. Responding to McCain, Mineta indicated that some 10 percent of AIP money would be allocated for security. Pushed by Burns to be more specific, Mineta ventured a guess that some $600 to $700 million, subject to correction, would be taken from the AIP piggy bank. Mineta opined that aviation priorities changed following September 11 and that there was more concern about security than airport construction and travel delays. Not asked was the question of exactly how much of an effect diverting AIP money to aviation security would have on the already approved AIP projects.

• Early last month the Senate, by a vote of 91-4, rejected a House proposal that would have barred airline loan guarantees until October 1 and reduced the cost of the program from $10 billion to $4 billion through the end of next year. This was particularly good news for US Airways, which announced it would file for bankruptcy unless it received $1 billion in guarantees and about $1 billion in concessions from its employees. The airline on June 10 submitted a loan-guarantee application for $900 million. While the airline’s pilot union offered a 26.4-percent reduction in pay and pensions that could save the airline some $328 million a year, the machinists union balked at the airline’s proposal for concessions that would come to $261 million a year.

• S.2497, introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), would prohibit the opening of cockpit doors on the flight deck of any aircraft engaged in commercial passenger air transportation or interstate transportation.

• S.4760, introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the Air Traffic Controller Retirement Reform Act of 2002, would provide that service performed by an air traffic controller who is transferred or promoted to a supervisory or staff position continue to be treated as controller service for retirement purposes.

• As of early last month, 4,862 bills were introduced in the House and 2,578 in the Senate. The raft of aviation bills introduced after September 11 is still floating, albeit upstream.