Congressional Observer: January 2002

 - May 29, 2008, 10:23 AM

As the first session of the 107th Congress wound down, the wonderful days of bipartisan behavior that followed September 11 gave way to partisan bickering over what the country needed by way of legislation. Democrat leadership in the Senate lacked the inclination to press forward on bills related to economic stimulus, defense spending and energy and turned the Senate’s attention to a railroad pension bill and a farm bill. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives showed little compulsion to trudge along the Senate path.

Still pending at press time were an assortment of seven funding bills necessary to keep the government running, and a continuing resolution to keep current funding levels until December 7 did little to increase the snail-like speed toward enabling legislation. Consequently, lumping the remaining appropriations bills into one vehicle, a so-called omnibus bill, so that Congress could change the adjournment time frame was a reasonable possibility.

An economic stimulus bill and omnibus bill have something in common–pork barrel or “earmarked” amendments. Earmarking is a quaint Congressional custom that has prevailed for many years and has reflected political clout rather than national need. Examples of earmarking are $2 million for the Oregon Groundfish Outreach Program; $510,000 for a chapel at Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Base in Hawaii; $100,000 to study the feasibility of converting a building in Martinsburg, W. Va., to a museum for Army artifacts; and $500,000 for the Montana Sheep Institute. Legislators know that opposing a given earmarked item would not be a smart move, for it would endanger a legislator’s individual earmarking activity. In Washington money terms, those kinds of individual expenditures do not appear to be extravagant. However, when all the earmarked legislation is toted up, the amount can be staggering and run into billions of dollars.

• At the end of December, there had been 1,754 bills introduced in the Senate and 3,390 in the House. In October and November alone, 50 bills relating to aviation were introduced, with only a few of those enacted–notably the airline bailout and aviation security bills. Bills not enacted will carry over into the next session of the 107th Congress but, since this is an election year, Congress will tread carefully on controversial bills.

• S.1447, “The Aviation and Transportation Security Act” as introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, (D-S.C.), was passed by the Senate and House and signed into law. Major provisions of the bill include creation of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) responsible for security in all modes of transportation, including aviation; creation of a Transportation Security Oversight Board to review and amend regulations by the TSA Undersecretary; federalizing U.S. citizens to conduct passenger and property screening; allowing airports to contract for screening after three years, with five airports to participate in pilot programs to test security programs; requiring that all checked and carry-on baggage be screened by explosive detection systems by the end of this year; requiring the strengthening of cockpit doors on airliners; allowing for the deployment of federal air marshals on selected flights; allowing pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit; lifting of all remaining enhanced Class B airspace restrictions 30 days after the bill becomes law unless the DOT Secretary publishes a notice in the Federal Register before such 30th day reimposing the restrictions and providing an explanation for doing so; and the Under Secretary of Transportation Security has to work up a report on how to improve security within general aviation and air charter operations within 30 days after enactment of the bill.

• H.R.2299, The Department of Transportation appropriations bill for fiscal 2002, gained the approval of a House/Senate conference committee after months of haggling over Mexican trucking. The FAA is to receive $13.3 billion, a 4.5-percent increase or $584 million over fiscal 2001. Included is $292 million for aviation security initiatives; $3.3 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), an increase of $100 million; and $80.9 million for the development of the wide area augmentation system (WAAS).

• H.R.3277, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, (D-Ill.), would expand the moratorium on foreclosure on FHA single-family mortgage loans of borrowers affected by the events of September 11, to employees of air carriers and aircraft manufacturers who are involuntarily separated after such date and to further extend such moratorium.

• H.R.3347, the “General Aviation Industry Reparations Act of 2001,” was introduced by the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. John Mica, (R-Fla.), and co-sponsored by Reps. Don Young, (R-Alaska) and Bill Shuster, (R-Pa.). Among the provisions of the bill is that the President shall take several actions to compensate general aviation entities for losses incurred as a result of September 11; that the Air Transportation Stabilization Board, in consultation with the Small Business Administration, may enter into agreements with one or more obligors to issue federal credit instruments if the Board determines that the obligor is a general aviation entity for which credit is not reasonably available at the time of the transaction and the intended obligation by the obligor is prudently incurred; that the amount of compensation payable may not exceed the amount of losses that such entity demonstrates to the satisfaction of the President, using sworn financial statements or other appropriate data; and that the President shall give priority for compensation to a general aviation entity based on the length of time that the entity has been unable to operate as a result of the attacks and if the entity is a defined as a small business concern.