Congressional Observer: June 2003
Congress recessed for 16 days in mid-April and when it returned, the major issues facing both houses were President Bush’s proposal for $726 billion in tax cuts, defense spending and Congressional “pork.”
Senate and House leaders were in disagreement as to what they would allow for the total amount of tax cuts. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), managed to sound a few sour notes as he struck an inside deal for the Senate to go along with a $350 billion tax cut, but the House was more inclined to up that to $550 billion. Final resolution, with compromises on certain measures and the amount of the tax cut was expected by the end of May.
Congress had earlier approved a $78.5 billion “emergency spending” bill that would pay for the initial costs of the war in Iraq and the follow-up, but eliminated or reduced presidential authority over eight separate accounts that the administration had proposed in the Iraq conflict and to counter terrorism at home and abroad. Denied was Bush’s request for a $150 million contingency fund to respond to complex foreign crises and for a $250 million emergency response fund that the President could distribute to any federal agency for immediate or emerging terrorism-related prevention.
Even though rumors prevailed that the Department of Defense would not go along with the Tanker Lease Pilot Program authorized last year (the DOD would lease 100 Boeing 767 fuel tankers for six years at a cost of $26 to $30 million) another $3 million was earmarked for that program. The General Accounting Office estimated that as an alternative to the lease, the DOD could upgrade, modernize and repair corrosion on the current fleet of KC-135Es for $3.2 million, a savings of at least $23 million.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor to take issue with the conference report stating that $2.5 billion was authorized for airport security projects without any discussion or consultation and that another provision would allow airports to give Airport Improvement Program (AIP) money back to the FAA to pay for the costs of administering the Essential Air Service program and the Small Community Air Service Development Pilot Program. “The AIP program,” said McCain, “is supposed to be devoted to the infrastructure needs of our airports…and funding those programs violates the long established purpose of AIP.”
• Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, James Oberstar (D-Minn.), house aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) wrote to President Bush seeking his support in opening up access to Washington’s Reagan National Airport for charter operators who have been denied use of that airport. “This means,” said the letter, “that DCA is the only airport serving a national capital in the free world at which such commercial flight operations are
banned. It also means that efficient, direct access to Washington is precluded for the huge number of communities throughout the U.S. that lack any other form of commercial air service.” The letter reminded the President that charter operators have implemented comprehensive security programs equivalent to those of scheduled airlines.
• S.824, the Aviation Investment and Revitalization Act, introduced by Sen. McCain, would reauthorize the FAA. AIP would receive $3.4 billion for 2004, $3.5 billion for 2005 and $3.6 billion for 2006. For fiscal 2004, the FAA would receive $2.9 billion for the Airways Facilities Improvement Program, $7.6 billion for Operations and $289 million for Research, Engineering and Development. The bill would also reorganize the air traffic services subcommittee.
• S.955, the Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), would provide liability protection to nonprofit volunteer pilot organizations flying for public benefit.
• S.957 and H.R.1889, the Flight Attendant Certification
Act are companion bills, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer
(D-Calif.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and would improve
the training requirements for and require the certification of cabin crewmembers.
• S.959, sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), would advance the airline pilots’ mandatory retirement age to 65 from 60. The bill states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the FAA Administrator may not, solely by reason of a person’s age, if such person is 65 years of age or younger, refuse to issue to, or renew for, such person an airman certificate for the operation engaged in FAR Part 121 or 135 operations; or require an air carrier to terminate the employment of, or refuse to employ such person as a pilot on such an aircraft owned or operated by the air carrier.”
• S.964, the Small Community and Rural Air Service Revitalization Act of 2003, introduced by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), would reauthorize the Essential Air Service program and authorize funding of $113 million for each of the fiscal years 2004
• H.R.1711, the Air Traffic Control System Integrity Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), would ensure that functions relating to the air traffic control system are carried out directly by the U.S. government. The bill is intended to counteract attempts toward privatization or corporatization of the air traffic control system.
• H.R.1994, the Essential Air Service Eligibility Fairness Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), would provide much needed financial relief to the Lancaster Airport in Pennsylvania, and other airports that are adversely affected by the existing law. The Department of Transportation had withdrawn funding for Lancaster, which denied the airport of its ability to provide commercial air service. o<