Congressional Observer: December 2001

 - May 27, 2008, 7:33 AM

What with anthrax scares shutting down congressional office buildings for purification and cleansing, and both houses tossing brickbats at each other over precautionary measures, legislators scrambled for space and time to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Some 10 government agency appropriations bills stalled and were not enacted to start the new fiscal year on October 1. So spending for these agencies was continued at last year’s levels through mid-November.

Given the emphasis on bills relating to aviation security, stimulating the economy, education, energy and so on, there was a strong belief that Congress would not be able to come to grips with the appropriations bills by the end of this session, now forecast to be around the middle of this month. The possibility of an “omnibus” bill that would lump all appropriations, and perhaps some other unfinished business, has become more of a probability.

Also of congressional concern was the shrinking budget surplus, down to about $127 billion in the year ending September 30 and down from a record $236.92 billion the year before. Heavy government spending since September 11 has caused analysts to predict that the government will post a deficit next year. Of note is that $33.5 billion came out of the Social Security surplus to pay for other programs in spite of Democrats’ and Republicans’ pledging that they would not touch those funds, a pledge that went down the drain as another casualty of September 11. President Bush has warned Congress that he would likely veto further post-terrorist attack spending bills.

• Aviation security has been of considerable concern to Congress. S.1447, the Aviation Security Act, introduced by Sens. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), was unanimously approved by the Senate. H.R.3150, the Airport Security Federalization Act of 2001, was introduced by Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the house aviation subcommittee. That bill was approved in the House by a vote of 286-139.

While there are some similar provisions in the bills, a major sticking point is whether to federalize the airport screener workforce (the Senate for and the House against). Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) added a bill that would require the FAA to establish security programs for operators of both large and small aircraft “with respect to crew, passengers, baggage handlers, maintenance workers and other individuals who have access to aircraft and to baggage covered by the program.” The Kohl bill also prohibits a person or company from selling, leasing or chartering an aircraft to an alien unless the Justice Department issues a certification of the completion of a background check of the alien.

As is the case with Senate and House bills that differ in treating the same subject, a conference committee was organized to iron out the differences and at press time it had begun negotiations. Given the amount of public and administration pressure to improve aviation security, analysts were hopeful that a refined bill acceptable to both Houses would emerge with some speed.

• The flow of aviation bills continues and AIN again suggests that readers who want more detailed information on a specific bill query the bill sponsor(s), the local congressional representative or via the Web at    

• S.1512, introduced by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), would require the President to submit a report on any airspace restrictions put in place as a result of September 11 that remain in place.

• S.1515, the Safe Ground Through Safe Skies Act of 2001, introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), contains provisions for security programs for all aircraft that weigh more and less than 12,500 lb.

• S.1544, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), would direct the Secretary of Transportation to give certain workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the terrorist attacks priority in hiring for aviation-related security positions.

• S.1552, the General Aviation Small Business Assistance Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), would provide for grants through the Small Business Administration for losses suffered by general aviation small business concerns as a result of September 11.

• H.R.3029, the Baggage Screening Act, introduced by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), would require the screening of all property carried in aircraft in air transportation and intrastate transportation.

• H.R.3030, introduced by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), would extend the “basic pilot” employment verification system from four to six years.    

• H.R.3064, the Airline Security Act of 2001, introduced by Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), would direct the FAA Administrator to implement certain aviation security measures.

• H.R.3067, introduced by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), is similar to S.1544.

• H.R.3110, the Transportation Security Enhancement Act of 2001, introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), would improve aviation security.

• H.R.3120, introduced by Rep. Rick Keller (R-Fla.), would provide for a study on the feasibility of giving airlines access to computerized lists of suspected terrorists.

• H.R.3165, the Aviation Security Act II, introduced by Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), would enhance the safety and security of the civil air transportation system.

• H.R.3171, the Federal Pilot Officer Act of 2001, introduced by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), would require the Attorney General to establish a program to select, certify, train and supervise qualified volunteer pilots, copilots and flight engineers who will be deputized as federal pilot officers with responsibility for defending the lives of the individuals in the cockpit of a commercial aircraft.

• H.R.3190, the Sky Police Act of 2001, introduced by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), would authorize the FAA Administrator to establish a program to permit federal, state and local law-enforcement officers to be trained to participate in the Federal Air Marshal program as volunteers.

• H.R.3202, introduced by Rep. David Vitter (R-La.), would require airlines to remove from a passenger aircraft any baggage that is checked by a passenger who does not board the aircraft.

• H.R.3220, the Secure Transportation of America Act of 2001, introduced by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), would improve aviation security.