Congressional Observer: September 2002

 - May 6, 2008, 6:54 AM

When Congress perceives public or political demands to do something, the House and Senate can act with uncharacteristic speed. For example, take the legislation that would curb and curtail corporate conniving and chicanery that raced through legislative processes, was passed by both houses and handed for signature by President Bush in near record time. If only some desirable aviation bills had the same priority.

• The Senate approved a $355.4 billion defense spending bill for next year by a vote of 95-3. The House approved its version of the legislation in June. Differences in the bills will hopefully be worked out in a conference committee. Among the bill provisions are $3.3 billion, $600 million more than President Bush sought, for 15 C-17 cargo airplanes; $315 million for four KC-130J Navy refueling airplanes for which Bush did not ask for funding; and $150 million to buy 21 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Army.

The legislation did not escape pork projects added for the benefit of home state projects. Included were $4.5 million, added by Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), to help settle a land dispute at the Tooele Army Depot and $7 million for a new warfare technology center in New Orleans added by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.).

• House members will get an automatic cost-of-living raise of 3.3 percent, about $5,000, in January unless lawmakers vote to block it, which is not likely. As a result, rank-and-file members will make about $155,000 a year.

• Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced H.R.3479–enthusiastically called the National Aviation Capacity Act, although its provisions deal primarily with the expansion of Chicago O’Hare Airport, keeping Meigs Field open to 2026 and building a new airport at Peotone, Ill.–but it did not fare well in the House. When the bill came up for a floor vote, 247 voted for and 143 against. That vote, however, lacked the two-thirds majority required for passage so this one goes back to the drawing board. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the companion bill in the Senate (S.2039) but no action has yet been taken on this.

• H.R.4635, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), was passed in the House by a vote of 310 to 113, in spite of the Bush Administration’s opposition.

No tears were shed in Washington over the resignation of former Transportation Security Administration Under Secretary John Magaw, who had maintained, “The cockpit in the aircraft is for pilots to maintain positive control of the aircraft.” Ret. U.S. Coast Guard Commander James Loy, who took over Magaw’s job, may have a different viewpoint, as the Administration appeared to be shifting its position.

Meanwhile S.2546, introduced by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), which bears the same title as H.R.4635, has stalled in the Senate since Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has refused to take up the House bill. Sen. Ernest Hollings, (D-S.C.) has been blocking the Senate bill from making its way through the Senate Commerce Committee. Hollings has been hung up on installing stronger cockpit doors and forbidding the opening of those doors for any reason. Several months ago when female pilots suggested to Hollings that the door would have to be opened so that they could use the rest rooms, Hollings derisively responded that they could use potted plants inside the cockpit.

• S.2735, the Aviation Security Enhancement Act of 2002 introduced by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), and H.R.5134, introduced by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), are companion bills that would amend Title 49 U.S. Code to provide for the modification of airport terminal buildings to accommodate explosive-detection systems for screening checked baggage and would delay the completion deadline for the 25 percent of the nation’s 429 airports that have more complicated terminal designs.

• S.2744, the National Aviation Heritage Area Act introduced by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), and H.R.5147, introduced by Rep. David Hobson (R-Ill.), are companion bills that would establish Dayton, Ohio, as the aviation heritage area.

• Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.) introduced S.2831 that would provide assistance to certain airline industry workers who have lost their jobs.

• H.R.5143, introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would make Los Angeles International Airport a priority airport for the purposes of receiving grants for airport noise-compatibility planning and programs.

• Box score–as of August 1 there were 2,895 bills introduced in the Senate and 5,324 in the House.