Senate Races to Pass Bill to Reauthorize FAA and Improve Air Travel

Senate Races to Pass Bill to Reauthorize FAA and Improve Air Travel

The Senate is battling a Friday deadline to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration at a time of great uncertainty and disruption in the air travel system, but a host of political disputes and unrelated issues threaten to drag out the debate.

One of the few remaining must-pass bills this year, the FAA package has become a magnet for dozens of amendments and policy issues that lawmakers are struggling to get a vote on, slowing its progress in the Senate. Regional interests have also upset the usual political alliances among lawmakers, making quick action more difficult.

“We must all work constructively and urgently to complete the work on the FAA,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “No one, absolutely no one, should want us to go past the deadline. That would unnecessarily increase the risks for so many travelers and so many federal employees.”

The bill, which would reauthorize the agency over the next five years, would provide more than $105 billion to the FAA and another $738 million to the National Transportation Safety Board for airport modernization, technology programs and security. It would also improve the hiring and training of air traffic controllers, codify airlines’ reimbursement obligations to passengers and strengthen protections for passengers with disabilities.

The legislation is a bipartisan compromise negotiated over months by the Senate and House committees that oversee the FAA after Congress approved several short-term extensions of the agency when lawmakers failed to meet previous deadlines. The House passed its version of the bill nearly a year ago on a lopsided vote of 351-69.

“To complete the FAA, we need urgency and a shared desire to get to a yes vote,” Schumer said Wednesday. “Any member who insists on unrelated changes only increases the likelihood that we will miss the deadline.”

With the legislation at risk of stalling, the House of Representatives agreed to a one-week extension on Wednesday before leaving Washington for the weekend. But it was not clear whether the Senate would be able to follow suit before the deadline, and leaders continued to push for the longer-term overhaul to move forward.

The debate comes at a time of acute uncertainty about the aviation system, which has seen a recent series of worrying events such as dangerous near-misses on runways, aircraft disruptions and thousands of flight delays and cancellations.

Senate leaders have scheduled a key test vote for early Thursday afternoon that will determine how quickly the bill can be implemented.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, said the Senate has a “very good chance of passing the bill by Friday” and that he expects “a strong bipartisan vote at the end of the day.”

“That’s what I’d like to see,” he said. “This is a bill that addresses hundreds of member priorities from both sides of the aisle and makes real progress toward improving safety and investing in air traffic controllers to reduce delays.”

Senators maintain their influence as the clock ticks on a panel that needs 60 votes to break a filibuster. They have filed dozens of amendments to the bill, which they are expected to send to Senate leaders for a vote. Some proposals relate to the aviation system, while others are entirely separate pieces of legislation that proponents want to incorporate into the FAA bill to increase its chances of passage.

One of the most intense regional disputes was the bill’s provision that would provide five round-trip flights from Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington, DC. Proponents, including Delta Air Lines, have said they want to expand access to the nation’s capital and increase competition.

But the proposal has angered the region’s MPs, who have argued that the airport maintains the busiest runway in the country and cannot support additional flights. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia and Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, all Democrats, filed an amendment to eliminate the new flights. If they do not get a vote on their proposal, Mr. Kaine and Mr. Warner threatened on Thursday to object to the rapid passage of a one-week extension that they said would allow leaders to beat the procedural deadline for the broader package without Expiration date Amendment votes are permitted.

Another group of senators pushed for a vote on their bipartisan proposal to stop the Transportation Security Administration’s expansion of facial recognition technology at airports and restrict it where it is used.

Senators have also suggested adding a range of independent policy ideas.

Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, called for a vote on his bill that would expand eligibility for federal compensation to the group of people harmed by exposure to the country’s nuclear weapons program. (The Senate passed the bill in March, but the House did not take it up.) He also vowed to block quick approval of an extension if his measure failed to get a vote.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Van Hollen wanted to add a bipartisan measure to allow the federal government to fully fund the replacement of the Francis Key Scott Bridge in Baltimore, which collapsed in late March.

Senators Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, and Roger Marshall, Republican of Kansas, wanted to add their legislation on credit card competition.

And Senators Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, wanted to introduce the Kids Online Safety Act, which would require social networks to take “reasonable measures” to prevent harm to minors on their websites become.

Senate leaders pointed to an overwhelming 81-10 majority last week to begin consideration of the bill as a sign of momentum and consensus on the measure. But as of Thursday, they were still working to reach an agreement to speed up the process, and the path to approval of the short-term extension was unclear.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said Wednesday that it was “increasingly unlikely” that a deal could be reached but that there was “always hope.”

“Everyone has it under control at the moment,” he said. “Whether they will be fully trained remains to be seen.”

Any major change the Senate makes to the measure would block it in the House, where leaders have urged their counterparts across the Capitol to disregard unrelated provisions.

The bill is a “carefully negotiated package, and support for the package could be jeopardized if the Senate begins to unravel key components of the agreement or add completely unrelated legislation to the package,” said Justin Harclerode, a Republican spokesman in the House Transportation Committee. He added that policymakers “could make passage in the House more difficult.”

Air travel industry stakeholders have called for quick passage of the law to address a number of critical issues in the system and provide the FAA with long-term operational certainty.

“A4A supports the rapid passage of the agreed upon bipartisan, bicameral agreement released Sunday evening after months of careful negotiations,” Airlines for America, a trade group, said in a statement. “Unnecessary, un-German amendments jeopardize this bill, which must be passed given the looming May 10 deadline.”

“We urge Congress to immediately pass the FAA reauthorization agreement,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “This agreement will stabilize the FAA and provide it with the resources necessary to ensure America’s aviation system remains the gold standard for safety and connectivity.”

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2024-05-09 15:27:26