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"House Passes FAA Reauthorization Bill; Senate Markup to Continue Friday"



Friday, September 21, 2007

House Passes FAA Reauthorization Bill; Senate Markup to Continue Friday 
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
Congressional Quarterly Today 


A bill that would reauthorize the FAA at $68 billion over four years and
tighten protections for passengers stranded on airport tarmacs was passed
Thursday by the House.

The House passed the measure (HR 2881) by a vote of 267-151 while the Senate
Finance Committee was preparing to mark up the tax portions of that
chamber's reauthorization bill (S 1300).

The late-afternoon Finance markup was derailed, however, when an unnamed
senator invoked an often-waived Senate rule that prevents committees from
meeting after the chamber has been in session for two hours. The rule is
typically waived each day by unanimous consent. 

The rule was invoked when it became clear that Trent Lott, R-Miss., planned
to offer an amendment in Finance that would authorize some $2 billion in
bonding authority for Amtrak. 

Lott's proposed amendment was itself a reaction to plans by Sen. Charles E.
Schumer, D-N.Y., to offer his own amendment that would authorize certain
railroad funding for New York.

The committee will reconvene Friday morning to finish consideration of the
measure.

Before passing the House bill, lawmakers adopted a number of amendments,
including a lengthy manager's package that would tighten oversight of
foreign aircraft repair stations, cut down on airline overscheduling,
establish health and safety standards for flight attendants, and create new
protections for people stranded on aircraft left on the tarmac for long
periods.

The passenger protections provisions were spurred by high-profile incidents
earlier this year, when JetBlue and American Airlines passengers were
stranded for hours on parked planes because of bad weather.

Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee,
which contributed the tax title to the reauthorization till, said he
expected a debate focused on money. Instead, his committee was inundated
with complaints from airline passengers.

"I was a little surprised that when this issue actually came before the full
committee, rather than dealing with the question of revenue, I had to deal
with the issue of outrage," Rangel said. 

As passed, the bill would require airlines and airports to develop plans to
provide clean drinking water to passengers and to allow them to deplane
following excessive delays. But it does not define what constitutes an
excessive delay, rendering that provision all but meaningless. It would
allow the Transportation Department to impose civil penalties on airlines or
airports that don't adhere to these plans.

The House adopted by voice vote an amendment by Ron Klein, D-Fla., that
would require the Transportation Department to investigate more consumer
complaints, including flight cancellations, overbooking, baggage concerns
and other issues.

An amendment that would order the FAA to study the feasibility of developing
a data clearinghouse for wind turbine obstruction of aviation sites was
adopted, 418-0.

The House also adopted by voice vote an amendment by Ted Poe, R-Texas, that
would require foreign aircraft repair stations to subject their employees to
drug and alcohol testing, as is the case for domestic aircraft mechanics.

Thursday morning, the House adopted a rule governing floor debate that had
the effect of adding to the underlying bill the text of a financing measure
(HR 3539) that would raise the general aviation fuel tax from 21.8 cents per
gallon to 35.9 cents per gallon, and the commercial aviation fuel tax from
19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. The extra revenue would be
dedicated to air traffic control modernization.

Florida Republican John L. Mica, the ranking member of the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he could not support the
bill because of two labor-related provisions: one that would reopen a
year-old contract dispute between the FAA and its air traffic controllers,
and another that would change the union status of much of the workforce at
Federal Express.

Additionally, the White House has issued a veto threat against the House
bill, saying it does not adequately tie the agency's revenues to the costs
imposed on the air traffic control system by users.

The administration wants to replace the current system of fuel and ticket
taxes with new usage fees, such as per-flight charges based on distance
traveled. The administration said such a shift is necessary to fund system
upgrades to handle the increasing volume of air traffic. 

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to reconvene at 8 a.m. Friday in
215 Dirksen.

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