House passes FAA extension with hurricane tax relief
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The House passed legislation on Thursday to extend federal aviation programs before a Saturday deadline and provide tax relief for people affected by recent hurricanes.

Lawmakers sent the measure to the Senate on a 264-155 vote, three days after it failed on the House floor due to widespread opposition from Democrats.

Democrats blocked the legislation from moving through a fast-track process that required a two-thirds majority for passage, limited debate time and prohibited amendments. House GOP leaders returned the bill to the floor under a rule needing only a simple majority.

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The package reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six months, just days before it expired at the end of September. Airport construction project delays and FAA employee furloughs could commence if Congress doesn’t act to renew agency programs in time.

“The FAA extension we are considering this week is not a pawn in a Washington game of political brinkmanship,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

The prospects for passage in the Senate, however, are uncertain.

Democrats have taken issue with the flood insurance provisions included in the bill, with Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Health Care: Ryan's office warns he wasn't part of ObamaCare deal | House conservatives push for mandate repeal in final tax bill | Dem wants probe into CVS-Aetna merger Ryan's office warning he wasn't part of deal on ObamaCare: source Overnight Health Care: Funding bill could provide help for children's health program | Questions for CVS-Aetna deal | Collins doubles funding ask for ObamaCare bill MORE (D-Fla.) calling them unacceptable.

"We’re not going to do all these add-ons," he told reporters earlier this week. "It’s got to be clean."

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) was overheard by a Politico reporter in an elevator on Wednesday pressing Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) to oppose the flood language.

Kennedy and Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTax bill could fuel push for Medicare, Social Security cuts Collins to vote for GOP tax plan Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday MORE (R-La.) issued a statement later in the day expressing concern over the provision.

“The decision to include this flood insurance measure on the FAA reauthorization bill, and not as part of comprehensive flood insurance reform, is greatly concerning,” the senators said.

“This would be a disservice to millions of families across the U.S., especially those families still recovering from the recent hurricanes.”

Senate leadership needs eight Democrats to support the bill, assuming there are no Republican defections.

And if the upper chamber makes any changes to the bill, the Senate would have to send the measure back to the House, which is not scheduled to be in session on Friday.

House Republicans are trying to push a proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government as part of a long-term FAA authorization, but it splits the party and faces opposition from Democrats.

Democrats support renewing the FAA, but leaders encouraged the rank-and-file this week to oppose the package because of the extra provisions they say were added without their input.

“If we’re to include extraneous measures on this must-pass legislation, then the process of compiling the bill should have been done in a bipartisan manner,” said Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Twenty-six Democrats, mostly centrists or lawmakers from states affected by recent hurricanes, declined to endorse their leaders’ strategy and still supported the package in the original Monday vote.

More Democrats voted for the Thursday version, with 43 of them joining all but seven Republicans in support.

Republicans attached several extraneous provisions to the FAA extension, including provisions that offer tax relief for hurricane victims, renew expiring health programs and encourage the creation of private flood insurance markets.

The health programs reauthorized in the legislation assist health centers with graduate medical education programs and offer care to people with severe immunodeficiency diseases. GOP leaders, however, did not include a renewal for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program even though its authorization also expires on Saturday.

Lawmakers have some extra time to vote on reauthorizing CHIP, because the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission estimates that states won’t run out of money right away. The commission said this summer that three states and the District of Columbia are expected to exhaust funds by December, while other states likely won’t need more money until early 2018.

The tax provisions would specifically allow disaster victims to take money out of their retirement funds without paying early-withdrawal penalties. The measure would also provide a tax credit for 40 percent of wages paid by an employer affected by a storm to workers from core disaster areas.

Republicans added language in the House Rules Committee before returning the bill to the floor for a second time that ensures that the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will be reimbursed for costs associated with the hurricane tax relief.

Democrats weren’t the only lawmakers to complain about the extra provisions tacked onto the FAA extension.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) expressed frustration that Congress has moved swiftly to help communities affected by Hurricane Harvey, but didn’t do the same for victims of severe floods in his state last year. He emphasized that he supports helping victims of the recent hurricanes, but wondered why the same tax relief wasn’t brought forward as quickly for people impacted by floods in Louisiana.

“Why are Texans better?” Graves asked during House floor debate. “This is absurd. It is absolutely absurd that we’ve been waiting for 13 months for this exact same tax relief, yet the victims of the other hurricanes get it within weeks.”

Graves also opposed the flood insurance provision and urged fellow lawmakers in a letter to vote against the bill.

“This is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation. We should be sending a clean FAA extension to the Senate,” he said. 

“Yeah, I think there will be [changes],” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters on Thursday. "There aren’t the votes in the Senate. They’ll block it. And with the short timeline we have to work with, that’s not a good outcome.”

The Senate’s No. 3 Republican added that the Senate will likely “pull out” the controversial flood insurance language and send it back to the House, if they can come up with an agreement to address the issue at a later date.

Earlier in the week, the House gave itself the authority to pass bills under a fast-track procedure on Thursday that requires a two-thirds majority for passage.