Congressional Observer: August 2008

 - July 30, 2008, 7:00 AM

• Congress took an eight-day break to celebrate the Fourth of July. However, the Senate continued its pro forma sessions to prevent President Bush making recess appointments from a long waiting list. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) instituted these proceedings early in this session so that Bush’s nominees would have to be submitted to the Senate for a vote of approval.

• Meanwhile, major legislation has been stuck in a Senate logjam and pundits opined that political maneuvering for the coming election is the cause. Democrats have accused Republicans of adopting a strategy that would lead to the appellation of a “do nothing” Congress. Among the bills in the logjam was a housing rescue bill that stalled due to a dispute about tax breaks for renewable energy production and a Medicare bill that Republicans filibustered because of a dispute over cutbacks in a program called Medicare Advantage. Senators of both parties complained that the logjam has been due to the prodigious use of filibusters (cloture motions to end debate) since January 2007.

Adding to the logjam are the 6,427 bills that had been introduced in the House and the 3,218 that had been introduced in the Senate by the end of June. Allowing for a few companion bills and a quantity of “rubber stamp” legislation (post office names, suspension of tariffs and so on) and assuming a generous 20-percent passage rate to date, that leaves some 7,600 bills in the various Congressional holding patterns with the clock counting down.

• In a preliminary analysis of six House appropriation bills for Fiscal Year 2009, Citizens Against Government Waste, a spending watchdog group tuned into pork barrel spending, noted there were 1,123 projects costing $409.8 million in the Commerce, Justice and Science bills; 655 projects in the Energy and Water bills that will cost $821 million; 1,370 earmarks at cost of $618.8 million in the Labor/HHS bill; and 102 earmarks costing $621.3 million in the Military Construction bill. The Department of the Interior had 247 projects costing $124.9 million and Financial Services had 197 projects costing $57 million.

Still to come are appropriations bills for other agencies.
• After a relatively quiet period for aviation legislation, the following bills were introduced:
• S.3165, the “Summer Travel Delay Prevention Act,” introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would develop a plan to share military and special-use airspace along the eastern seaboard with commercial air traffic, to provide adequate resources for the FAA New York Integration Office, to establish an Aviation Traveler Task Force, and to design a notification system to alert passengers to potential service disruptions.
• Companion bills S.3150, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and H.R.6299, introduced by Rep. Gregory Meeks
(D-N.Y.), would prohibit the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the FAA from conducting auctions, implementing congestion pricing, limiting airport operations or charging certain use fees at airports.
• Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) introduced two bills. H.R.6246 would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish an international registered traveler program that incorporates available technologies to expedite and enhance the security, screening and processing of international travelers
at U.S. borders, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, who enter and exit the U.S. H.R.6247 would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and acquire new technologies to inspect and screen air cargo on passenger aircraft to ensure transportation security.
• H.R.6327, the “Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2008,” introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the funding and expenditure authority of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.
• H.R.6355, the “Air Service Improvement Act of 2008,” introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code to provide for improvements in the quality of airline services. The bill would call for monthly air carrier reports, air passenger service improvements, a review of air carrier flight delays, cancellations and associated causes, establishment of an advisory committee for aviation consumer protection, denied boarding compensation and expansion of DOT airline consumer complaint investigations.