Congressional Observer: December 2002

 - May 9, 2008, 7:28 AM

Observing the 107th Congress could sometimes be likened to watching a three-ring circus. There was the House of Representatives in one outside ring and the Senate on the other side, with the Administration or the White House in the center ring.

There were minor circus differences, to be sure. For instance, instead of one ringmaster to keep the show moving in all three rings, each ring beckoned to the call of its own master. The House and Senate majority leaders dictated what legislative acts would perform in their rings while the Administration, unable to enact any acts of legislation on its own, sought to influence what took place in the other rings. In the absence of complete harmony (as there was after Sept. 11, 2001), performers, animals and clowns could not join hands in a grand march around the arena to share the applause for a show well enacted. The Democrat majority in the Senate and the Republican majority in the House made it difficult for the Administration to get all the acts together, even with the threat to veto those that did not entertain the President.

The results of the November elections may change how the circus will perform when the 108th Congress convenes next month, for the Republicans will rule in both the Senate and the House. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who has been declared an “obstructionist” by the Administration, will give way to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as the Senate Majority Leader. So President Bush may now act as a bona fide ringmaster and coordinate the legislative acts with special priority given to new tax cuts, permanent extension of the 10-year reduction in income and inheritance taxes and, perhaps, the establishment of the new Department of Homeland Security. Only time will tell whether the new circus will rate accolades from the public.

• After the election, the lame duck 107th Congress convened to waddle its way through a few items of unfinished business such as the appropriations for 13 government agencies that had been temporarily funded until November 22 by a continuing resolution that allowed them to operate at previous levels. Washington pundits consider continuing resolutions a necessary evil but are wary of time-consuming haggling that could result in hasty action to close out the session and lead to an omnibus bill that would bundle all agency appropriations. Omnibus bills have been subjected to a fair amount of “pork” amendments that find their way into the individual agency appropriations and go unchallenged.

• By a vote of 409 to 14, the House approved a compromise $355.4 billion military spending bill that included $3.3 billion for 15 C-17 transport aircraft ($586 million more than the Administration requested) and $270 million for 19 Army Black Hawk helicopters (seven more than the Administration sought). The entire bill represents a $34 billion increase over last year.

• The House Appropriations Committee warned the FAA that Airway and Airport Trust Fund revenues are down and that the FAA should aggressively seek productivity and efficiency gains where possible to offset a potential shortfall in fiscal 2003 funding.

• House and Senate bills that would allow for the arming of airline pilots appear to be stalled out for the time being. While the House has approved H.R.4635, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, proposed by Rep. Dan Young (R-Alaska), House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman, and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Aviation Subcommittee chairman, the Senate may go for amending S.2949, the Aviation Security Improvement Act, by adding cockpit security-related provisions previously amended to the Senate’s Homeland Security legislation. Such maneuvering may add to delays in approving the legislation.

• S.3071, introduced by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), would require reports to Congress related to airports that will not deploy explosive detection systems by the end of this month.

• H.R.5559, introduced by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), is the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Act, 2003. The bill provides $7.06 billion for necessary FAA expenses, including operations and research activities related to commercial space transportation; administrative expenses for research and development; establishment of aviation facilities; the operation (including leasing) and maintenance of aircraft of which $3.585 billion shall be derived from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. Facilities and Equipment would receive $2.981 billion, to be derived from the trust fund, and Research Engineering would receive $138 million from the trust fund. The Airport Improvement Program (AIP) would be funded at $3.1 billion out of the trust fund and would remain until expended.

• H.R.5678, the Airline Worker Relief Act, introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and 28 members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would provide assistance for employees who are separated from employment as a result of reductions in service by airlines and closures of airports caused by terrorist actions, security measures or a military conflict with Iraq. The bill would make some $2.2 billion in financial relief available to airline workers remaining jobless after 9/11. The bill was to be introduced in the weeks following the attacks but was held back to pass the $15 billion bailout package for the airlines. Oberstar later said he planned to amend the bill for airlines by adding “or any other appropriate vehicle.” A provision of the bill would give laid off aviation workers preferential hiring as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners. Oberstar claimed that thousands of TSA screening positions are unfilled and that the TSA should be directed to develop a program of performance incentives to federal security managers to encourage the hiring of eligible airline employees for TSA positions.

• What happens to the abundance of the 3,000 Senate and 6,000 House bills that were not enacted into law? When the 107th Congress shuts down, all of the bills not passed will die. Those that legislators feel merit further consideration will have to be re-introduced after the 108th Congress convenes. Traditionally, bills relating to aviation matters have seldom gained substantial support because of the small voter constituency. So it will be wait-and-see time beyond next month.