Congressional Observer: September 2003

 - August 12, 2008, 5:04 AM

As the Senate and the House of Representatives neared adjournment for August, both parties in the Senate were patting themselves on the back for their presumed successes. Passed were free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore, a supplemental appropriation to make up for depleted funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the $350 billion tax-cut package, $15 billion over five years to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa, prescription drug benefits as part of a $400 billion Medicare package and an energy bill that was proposed last year when Democrats controlled the Senate.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has been given a boost by agreements between the Senate, House and the Administration on discretionary spending levels, capped out at $785 billion for fiscal 2004, and leaders are looking forward to wrapping up appropriations for the 13 government agencies close to the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. To that end, the House already passed four bills that include the defense ($369 billion), labor, health and human services and education departments.

However, supplemental spending bills, the traditional feeding ground for congressional pork projects by way of amendments, have a way of turning up and may present additional funding problems.

•    At the same time, war, tax cuts and the flagging economy may boost this year’s budget deficit to more than $450 billion. In 2000, the Treasury boasted a $236 billion surplus and predicted that this year’s figures would reflect a fiscal reversal of some $680 billion. It is wait-and-see time as to how Congress will react to the mounting deficits.

•    The proposed $17.2 billion deal that would allow the U.S. Air Force to lease 100 Boeing 767s for use as refueling tankers as replacements to the existing aging fleet was approved by the House Armed Services Committee, the third of four congressional committees that are reviewing the proposal. Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who included “buy American” provisions in the defense authorization bill, sought and received a concession from Boeing to buy American-made titanium. Still to come is consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee headed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an outspoken critic of the deal who contends that the lease agreement is a waste of taxpayer money and a corporate pork gift to Boeing.

•    And, speaking of pork, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who added some $10.5 million in “earmarked” amendments for projects in his state for 2003, was named “July Porker of the Month” by the Citizens Against Government Waste. It seems that Stevens was opposed to Senate Resolution 173, introduced by Sen. McCain, that would allow any Senator to object to an “earmark” in an appropriations bill by raising a point of order. Once that point of order is raised, the “earmark” would require 60 votes to remain in the spending bill.

•    Language added by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to H.R.2144, the Aviation Technical Corrections and Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would require all airport workers to pass through security-screening checkpoints before entering any sterile area. When touring an airport, DeFazio had noticed that concessionaires were not being screened before walking into secured areas. Airport lobbyists are opposing the provision claiming that some 1.5 million airport workers would have to be screened every day, and some more than once.

•    As reported last month, H.R.2632, the Safe Aviation and Flight Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), would require the installation of two combination cockpit voice/digital flight data recorder systems in each commercial passenger aircraft currently required to carry each of those separate recorders. It should be noted that the bill states that the Secretary of Transportation shall purchase and make available the recorders, at no cost, to an air carrier to comply with regulations.

•    House and Senate conferees accepted compromises to the FAA reauthorization bills in late July, but both houses will have to wait a return from their August adjournments to take a vote on the final measure. Among the many provisions are providing the FAA with $59 billion over four years; restoring GA access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and requiring the Department of Homeland Security to develop a security plan for such user access; authorizing $100 million in economic relief funding for general aviation business affected by restrictions imposed on them following 9/11; prohibiting the privatization of any traffic separation and control functions, except for smaller control towers until Oct. 1, 2007; allocating Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding of $3.4 billion for next year, and increasing it $100 million a year for the following three years; preserving a $1 million minimum AIP entitlement for airports that have temporarily dropped below 10,000 annual passengers; requiring 30-day notice before an airport can be closed and imposing a civil penalty of $10,000 for each day that an airport remains closed without having given the required notification; establishing new procedures for flight training of non-U.S. citizens; authorizing $500 million annually for airport security improvements, $250 million of which will be guaranteed spending financed by part of the aviation security fee paid by passengers; providing pilots, maintenance technicians and other FAA-issued certificate holders the ability to appeal the revocation of their certificates for security matters; updating standards for aircraft maintenance technicians; and requiring the DOT to issue a final rule to establish quiet-noise technology over the Grand Canyon.

•    H.R.2734, the Federal Aviation Administration Research and Development Reauthorization Act, introduced by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), would authorize appropriates for the civil aviation research and development projects and activities of the FAA.

•    H.R.2776, the Backcountry Landing Strip Access Act, introduced by Rep. C. L. Otter (R-Idaho), would ensure general aviation aircraft access to federal land and to the airspace over that land.

•    Bill box score as of the end of July: 1,570 bills introduced in the Senate and 2,987 in the House of Representatives.