Slots argument keeps aviation bill grounded

"It probably can't be worked out on this floor," he added. "They might be able to but probably can’t."


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed frustration last Tuesday on the argument over slots and threatened to file cloture on the FAA bill on Monday even if senators had not managed to reach an agreement.

But according to Reid's statement on the floor Monday morning, amendments will continue to be added and voted on both Monday night and Tuesday morning. No end to the amendment process seems to be in sight.

Federal law allows only 12 long-distance flights (nonstop, over 1,250 miles) to and from Reagan National Airport each day. The remaining long-distance flights are diverted to Dulles Airport and Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI), both about 30 miles from the District.

West Coast senators in particular, such as Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), want to add slots at Reagan National to stimulate long-distance travel to and from their states. They say their constituents have a right to easy access to the nation’s capital.

Members of Congress who represent districts including, or near, BWI and Dulles airports, however, fear their districts could suffer if Reagan National is given more long-distance slots.

Rockefeller said he does not believe the slots argument is technically germane to the content of the bill. Unless an agreement is made to suspend the rules, amendments that are not germane demand a higher standard for passage, which could make it even more difficult for an agreement to be reached.

The FAA bill is the first to be taken up under a deal struck last month between Senate leadership that allows nearly unlimited amendments on legislation while limiting the power of dilatory tactics. The deal was meant to expedite the Senate’s legislating ability.