Senate clears aviation bill on 87-8 vote after weeks of wrangling

The Senate voted 87-8 to pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill late Thursday evening.

The victory came after three weeks of controversy regarding the bill’s spending levels, collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, and the number of long-distance flights allowed into an airport near Washington D.C.

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All but eight senators were satisfied with the final product. Only Republican Sens. Mike Crapo (Idaho), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Pat Toomey (Pa), Jim Risch (Idaho), and David Vitter (La.) voted in opposition.

In the hour leading up to the final passage vote, the upper chamber considered a series of 12 amendments on issues germane to the underlying legislation.

One amendment that was designed to limit subsidized flights into rural airports was agreed to by a voice vote. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he proposed the amendment as part of his sustained effort to decrease government spending. Another Coburn amendment with a similar objective subsequently failed.

Other amendments were also passed in the final hour including one that would mandate the reduction of helicopter noise in rural areas and one to protect and assist pilots who volunteer their services and equipment for the public benefit.

In the debate that meandered over three weeks and various subjects, it sometimes seemed senators had nearly forgotten the underlying non-controversial content of the bill. At its core the bill was designed to improve and modernize aviation infrastructure and fund security services.

About halfway through the final period of debate, Coburn, who held up the debate at various periods, reminded his colleagues why he had so vehemently objected to some measures.

The bill will now go to a conference with the House, where senators on relevant committees and leadership will try to hash out a compromise with their counterparts.