House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., on Friday introduced the 21st stopgap funding measure for the Federal Aviation Administration, complaining that the “intransigence of the Senate” has made it impossible to complete final negotiations on a long-term bill before the current funding expires next week.
Another FAA extension was not unexpected. House and Senate lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on almost everything this year, including their recess schedules. Still, the inability to find common ground on a bill that passed both bodies with bipartisan majorities doesn’t bode well for the rest of the congressional session. The FAA bill is small potatoes compared to the looming debt ceiling crisis or even the $230 billion surface transportation bill proposed by Mica last week, which was widely panned by Democrats.
The latest FAA stopgap could irk some rural lawmakers by scaling back financial assistance for rural communities to finance air travel. The bill includes a Senate-passed provision to limit “Essential Air Service” eligibility to communities that are located 90 or more miles from a large or medium hub airport. Ten communities would be removed from the EAS list under the provision, resulting in $12.5 million in annual savings, according to Mica’s office. The bill also would limit rural per-passenger subsidies that Mica says would save some $4 million and impact just three airports: Ely, Nevada; Alamogordo/Holloman AFB, New Mexico; and Glendive, Montana.
This extension, if it passes, will expire on Sept. 16. (It should be a fun month. The highway gas tax will expire on Sept. 30.) But don’t expect an FAA agreement anytime soon. The House and Senate are still at an impasse over a labor provision in the House version that would change how rail and aviation workers are covered under the law. President Obama also has threatened to veto any FAA bill that includes the House language, which overturns a decision from the National Mediation Board about how workers vote for union representation.
This article appears in the July 15, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.