Senate Vampire Slayers’ Conundrum: 'X Out’ or Put a Stake in It?


Say you’re a U.S. senator and there’s something akin to a monster afoot that threatens your constituents and their livelihood.  Is it enough to simply ‘X out’ other lawmakers’ plans and proposals aimed at keeping it alive? Or is it necessary to actually drive a stake through its heart?

Ask Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and he’ll tell you that trying to avoid the beast or even whacking it about the head a few times won’t make it go away for good.  Sometimes, he says, the monster has to be taken down in a true show of force.

Moran

In the Senate, the stake through the heart often is the so-called show vote that demonstrates clearly to the House and to others—in this case, the Trump administration—that the beast has no chance of having its way. And Moran says that’s what’s necessary to make sure that a House plan to spin oversight of U.S. air traffic operations out to a board dominated by airline industry executives never sees the light of day.

Moran, whose state is home to the general aviation industry that opposes the plan, says for a time, he was encouraged to believe the air traffic control plan being pushed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) didn’t have the votes to get out of the House and essentially was on life support. But as Halloween approached, Moran by accident discovered that a plan had been hatched to breathe new life into the proposal.

It was actually the pursuit of chocolate that led Moran to venture to the Republican lair off the Senate floor during a late night “vote-a-rama” on the budget resolution. There, he discovered that an effort was quietly afoot to insert into the must-pass budget language the House wanted to create a reserve fund for the commercialization of air traffic control and make it easier for Shuster to get his bill through the House.

“Good thing I went to the cloakroom to get a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup because I found this conversation going on about this issue,” Moran says. “It was already in the budget resolution, but by the time the night was over, we got it X’ed out.”

The move added another layer of procedural difficulties for the House bill, which hasn’t budged since. As a result, no bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to be finalized this year.

But Moran says he’s still not satisfied and wants the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s more traditional FAA bill to be brought up on the floor and put to a vote this fall. The exercise will make clear there aren’t the 60 votes necessary to advance the House plan, he says.

“If someone wants to offer the amendment on privatization that’s fine,” Moran says. “Let them do that—we’ll show where the votes are on that.”

Moran’s bid to get the FAA bill on the Senate schedule in the remaining days of the year also faces its own hurdles, however. Well-placed Senate aides said they expect the matter to instead come to a head around March 31 when a six-month FAA extension expires.

In the meantime, the airline industry is expected to dispatch its lobbying crew to Capitol Hill to try anew to resuscitate the plan.