Congress delays decision on FAA funding again

 - July 30, 2008, 6:55 AM

With the days before Congress’ summer vacation rapidly dwindling, the FAA funding conundrum continued last month. In late June, Congress bought itself three more months when it extended the agency’s current funding and programs until September 30. Lawmakers now have extended aviation funding and taxes five times since they initially expired on Sept. 30, 2007.

Debate about FAA reauthorization and the funding mechanism began early last year, and many observers are convinced that another extension will be approved before this year’s September 30 expiration date.

The House, which passed its reauthorization bill last September, has a target adjournment date for this session of Congress of September 26. But it will be away from the nation’s capital from August 4 to September 5 for what is called a “summer district work period.”

Time Runs Short
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders are expected to depart for the summer congressional recess a week early on August 4, although there is a possibility of a weekend session on August 2 and 3. The Senate, which has no firm date for adjourning this session of Congress, had been slated to start its month-long vacation on August 8.

Although Congress usually disregards its target adjournment date, it may meet that goal this year because the Jewish high holy days, which interrupt legislating for several days, take place in the final week of September and the first full week of October. Columbus Day follows closely.

House majority leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said pro-spects for a sixth consecutive lame-duck session after Election Day are not looking good. He predicted Congress will come back when there is a new Congress and a new President.

On July 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a draft bill to provide $66.8 billion for the Department of Transportation in Fiscal Year 2009, which begins September 30. Of the amount allocated to DOT, $15.5 billion is for the FAA. That is a
4-percent increase over FY08 and 5.9 percent higher than President Bush requested.
Included in the FAA’s funding is $9 billion for operations, $2.7 billion for facilities and equipment and $3.5 billion for the Airport Improvement Program. The last received a $500 million increase over last year and $765 million more than the White House requested.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, last month urged Senate leadership to schedule votes for all 12 annual appropriations bills. The panel has now approved six of the 12.

But President Bush has threatened to veto any appropriations bill that exceeds his recommendations in the FY09 budget submission. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate could finish work on two of the 12 annual appropriations bills before Congress passes a continuing resolution that would likely fund the federal government until a new President and Congress take over next year.

The FAA reauthorization bill passed last year by the House, and under consideration by the Senate, includes an adjustment to the general aviation fuel tax to provide for additional funding each year for continued transformation toward the satellite-based aviation system, now known as NextGen.