House approves first long-term FAA funding bill in eight years

The House on Friday morning approved legislation that calls for $63 billion in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding through 2015, after 23 short-term extensions that members of both parties said was making it harder for the agency to perform its air safety functions.

The House approved the conference report to H.R. 658, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, by a 248-169 vote.

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House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) praised the vote as an end to eight years of short-term FAA extensions. Mica lamented the 17 short-term extensions that the Democrat-controlled White House and Congress passed, as well as the six he was forced to approve as the government struggled to secure a long-term funding blueprint for the FAA.

"These extensions cost the taxpayer millions of dollars, and you can't run an agency that's responsible for so much of our economy with these hiccup extensions," Mica said.

The bill was supported by 24 Democrats whose desire to put the FAA on a more stable funding path outweighed their objections to the bill. Several Democrats took to the floor today to encourage members to vote for what they said was a less-than-perfect bill.

Most importantly, Democrats continue to oppose the labor compromise that House and Senate conferees struck in the bill. Under the legislation, no less than 50 percent of airline workers must favor a vote on unionization before that vote can take place, up from 35 percent.

Some Democrats said today that this language has no place in the FAA bill, but said it is at least better than language in the House-passed FAA bill. House language would have repealed a National Mediation Board (NMB) rule under which absentee votes in union elections were not counted as votes against forming a union.

"Now some will say that this compromise is several degrees better than the original provision in the House bill," House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said today. "Nevertheless, I strongly oppose inclusion of this NMB provision in the pending legislation."

While some Democrats said they must oppose the bill over the compromise labor language, Rahall and Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat on the committee, set the tone by saying they would support the bill but closely watch to see how the labor rule affects union elections.

Rahall also found comfort in other aspects of the conference bill, such as the decision not to include House-passed language that would eliminate the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes air service to rural areas of the country.

The bill also provides more overall funding for the FAA — the House bill cut FAA funding to FY 2008 levels, while the compromise bill keeps funding at FY 2011 levels.

"This legislation will improve safety and it will improve efficiency," Rahall said. "It will create some jobs, though not enough in my view. While it does not slash FAA funding to 2008 levels, it could have authorized more investment in our nation's aviation infrastructure.

"At least this legislation will set a course for the Federal Aviation Administration, and follow with investing for the future,  and keeping the skies safe in the coming years," Rahall continued. "I do not want to the see the FAA continue to limp along in the no-man's land of serial extensions."

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