Senate Majority Leader Reid Thursday moved to limit debate on stalled FAA legislation as a solution remained out of reach regarding GOP angst over offering amendments and the inclusion of nonaviation language.
Tuesday's cloture vote will be the first roll call vote on the bill since Monday's successful motion to limit debate on going to the measure. There was only sporadic floor debate on the FAA reauthorization bill Thursday as aides and lawmakers largely remained behind the scenes to continue negotiations.
Republican leaders and the White House are balking at the bill's reimbursements to the highway trust fund; rail infrastructure tax bonds, and the doubling of an oil spill tax from 5 cents to 10 cents a barrel, among other provisions unrelated to aviation.
Commerce Aviation Subcommittee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has said that these "extraneous tax provisions that have nothing to do with aviation" would kill the bill.
Reid also upset Republican leaders Wednesday when he moved to "fill the amendment tree" and essentially cut off amendments from being offered to the bill except for those he allows. Reid has accused Republicans of wanting to kill the bill.
Minority Leader McConnell has promised to filibuster the bill until a compromise is reached and GOP aides suggested that a failed cloture vote might be necessary to reach a compromise.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus has called the oil spill tax increase and the bill's other pay-fors "responsible," and he and Finance ranking member Charles Grassley stood with transportation industry officials at a news conference Thursday to argue that the highway trust fund reimbursements are needed to fill a funding shortfall and preserve construction and other jobs.
A White House Statement of Administration Policy said the FAA bill "attempts to justify a departure from this principle by retroactively deeming costs from past emergencies as requirements to be borne by the General Fund. But the result is both a costly gimmick and a dangerous precedent that shifts costs from users to taxpayers at large."
A component of Republican opposition to the nonaviation pieces of the FAA bill's tax package was showcased in dueling floor speeches Thursday between Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Budget ranking member Judd Gregg.
Gregg went to the floor and accused Schumer of questioning his support of Lower Manhattan's rebuilding effort following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because Gregg is opposed to the inclusion in the FAA bill of roughly $1.7 billion in tax incentives for transportation infrastructure projects connecting with New York's Liberty Zone.
Gregg said the money would specifically go to a train running from the former World Trade Center site to Kennedy International Airport and accused Schumer of using the attacks to fund an unnecessary earmark.
"This earmark shouldn't see the light of day, and I don't think it can be defended on the grounds of 9/11," Gregg said. "And in fact, I think that really does serious damage to the historic and very human perspective of 9/11 ... and then claim in a way that is most inappropriate, in my opinion, if somebody opposes that proposal they are attacking the memory and the purpose and the sacredness of the 9/11 event and the ground zero's reconstruction. Even by New York standards of exaggerated politics, that's carrying it a step too far, more than a step too far, in my opinion."
Schumer said the bill directs money more broadly for transportation infrastructure projects and might not go to that particular train project. He also said it is part of President Bush's promise to provide $20 billion in aid toward rebuilding Lower Manhattan after the attacks; has been included in the last four administration budget requests and has passed the House and Senate multiple times. "This is about keeping a promise," Schumer said. "And if this were about your state, you would demand it."
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.