House, Senate GOP Set to Unveil Competing FAA Plans

Daily Report for Executives provides in-depth coverage of unfolding legislative, regulatory, and judicial news from the nation’s capital, the states, and around the world. This daily news service...

By Shaun Courtney and Nancy Ognanovich

House and Senate Republican leaders are working in tandem to start moving a reauthorization of federal aviation programs across the floors of both chambers in July, congressional and industry sources told Bloomberg BNA.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) plans to unveil June 21 his draft bill to spin air traffic control operations out of the Federal Aviation Administration and bring the measure directly to full committee markup June 27, they said.

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) confirmed that he is readying his own, more traditional FAA rewrite to be released in draft form June 21, and that he plans to bring it to full committee markup in a week, likely by June 28.

Those actions would set the stage for both the House and Senate to take up the competing bills after lawmakers return from their July 4 recess.

Lawmakers are anxious to move the measures quickly, as they will have only 13 official work days in July before the start of the five-week August recess on July 29. Current funding for the FAA expires on Sept. 30.

“We’re putting it together as we speak,” Thune told Bloomberg BNA regarding his draft.

Counting Votes in House

Shuster is expected to brief reporters June 21 on his bill. His measure is anticipated to be similar to the bill he pushed in the last Congress to create a quasi-government corporation to run air traffic control.

This year’s bill comes with White House support. Based on a proposal President Donald Trump announced June 5, the measure is expected to include changes to appease concerned industry groups—such as recommendations for fewer seats dedicated for the airlines on the corporation’s board.

More changes are expected when the committee marks up the measure, including the possible addition of non-aviation items affecting other transportation programs, industry sources said.

Committee Democrats, including ranking member Peter DeFazio (Ore.), remain opposed to taking air traffic control out of the FAA. But Shuster still is likely to have the votes to move it out of committee.

Less certain, however, is the fate of the measure if it comes to the floor. In the last Congress, Shuster was unable to show he had the votes to pass the initiative and House GOP leaders didn’t schedule the legislation for a floor vote. Besides Democrats, Shuster didn’t have the support of Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, who wanted to retain control over FAA funding decisions.

The chairman of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), reiterated his opposition to the air traffic proposal during a hearing June 15.

Shuster is currently working to attract more Democratic support for the measure outside of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, congressional and industry sources said.

New Extension Seen

Thune’s bill is expected to reflect a traditional approach to FAA programs, as well as the reality of Senate politics. As in previous years, Thune can’t get the required 60 votes for a bill that would take air traffic control out of the agency, aides said.

Thune has repeatedly said he would let the House take the lead on air traffic control, waiting to see if Shuster has the votes before Senate Commerce would consider including the spinoff.

Thune seemed to echo that approach when he told Bloomberg BNA about the markup timing.

“I know we were going to let the House go first,” he said.

Critics of the House plan, including Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), said the proposal could be put to a vote in committee or on the floor simply to send a message to the House that the plan can’t succeed.

In either case, congressional aides and industry officials said they expect no resolution soon and, as a result, Congress will likely have to pass another extension of current programs when the FAA authorization lapses Sept. 30. They said a likely outcome will be an extension to year’s end to give lawmakers more time to resolve their differences.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com; Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Daily Report for Executives