Congressional Observer: November 2002

 - May 8, 2008, 6:35 AM

On November 5, U.S. voters will determine whether Republicans or Democrats have the majority in the House and Senate, and how this pans out has obvious importance to the Bush Administration. In the Senate, where the Democrats enjoy a one-vote majority, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who may have aspirations to run for president in 2004, has been a constant thorn in the side of President Bush by holding up progress on a number of bills. In the Republican-controlled House, the administration has fared somewhat better and several key bills have been approved and sent on to the Senate. In preparation for the election, legislators either pointed with pride at what they had done for their constituents or pointed with chagrin at the neglect of their opposite numbers.

• The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved legislation that would revise the aviation security bill passed after September 11, and exempt 40 airports from the year-end deadline for use of explosive-detection machines until December 31 next year. It also requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to identify those airports and provide monthly reports to Congress. Additionally, the bill would allow non-U.S. citizens to apply for federal airport screening jobs.

• Funding for the Department of Transportation that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee included a provision to prevent the DOT from granting any waivers to the “sporting event” TFR (Notam 2/0199). If the bill goes through, Section 344 states, “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to terminate or limit the restriction imposed under Federal Aviation Administration Notam FDC 2/0199 or to grant waivers of or exemptions from such restrictions.” The provision would affect some 55 airports that surround various sporting-event locations.

• The House aviation subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), approved provisions of H.R.5506–the Aviation Industry Stabilization and Reform Act–that would give airlines financial relief by allowing the government to pay for most of the airline insurance and security costs that stemmed from September 11. The act would require airlines to pay the first $100 million in damage claims for acts of war or terrorism, and the government would pay the rest. Passengers would no longer have to undergo second searches at airport gates. Airlines would be reimbursed for the cost of reinforced cockpit doors and airport bomb-detection machines. And, should the U.S. go to war against Iraq, the U.S. would allow the airlines to apply for federal loan guarantees to assist in raising money needed to continue operations.

• S.2642, introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), was subjected to an amendment by the Senate Commerce Committee that would remove the 12,500-lb threshold and would effectively require all flight-training providers to give notification to the Department of Justice of their intent to train a foreign national on an aircraft of any size. The National Air Transportation Association has gone on record as opposing expansion of the notification requirements.

• S.2939, sponsored by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), would provide appropriate overtime pay for National Weather Service forecasters performing essential services during severe weather events and limit Sunday premium pay to hours of service actually performed on Sunday.

• S.2949, the Aviation Security Improvement Act, introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), has a number of provisions that relate to explosive-detection systems, air-cargo security, passenger identification, circumvention of airport security, war-risk insurance and blast-resistant and cargo-container technology.

• H.R.5456, introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would direct the Secretary of Transportation to maintain flight restrictions over major sporting events and other major assemblies of people.

• H.R.5506, introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), would provide relief to the airline industry. The bill also contains provisions to reform the FAA in certain areas.

• H.R.5559, introduced by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), makes appropriations for the Department of Transportation and various agencies. The FAA would receive some $7.1 billion, of which $3.6 billion would be derived from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The Airport Improvement Program (AIP) would receive $3.1 billion in fiscal year 2003.

• Box score at press time stood at 3,062 bills introduced in the Senate and 5,559
in the House.