White House works to sell House Republicans on Trump’s air traffic control plan

White House works to sell House Republicans on Trump’s air traffic control plan
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The White House dispatched a high-ranking official to Capitol Hill on Wednesday in an effort to sell skeptical House Republicans on President Trump’s plan to separate air traffic control from the federal government.

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who has been a vocal proponent of the spinoff proposal, met with members of the general aviation caucus who still have questions or concerns about the privatization push, according to lawmakers who were at the meeting.

The GA caucus is bipartisan, but Rep. Sam GravesSam GravesGOP signals infrastructure bill must wait House Republicans work to torpedo Trump’s air traffic control plan White House works to sell House Republicans on Trump’s air traffic control plan MORE (R-Mo.) believes that only Republicans were in attendance.

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“I think [the purpose of the meeting] was just to put that stamp of approval on what was gong on, and to suggest that if we have to twist some arms, that the White House will be engaged in it,” said Rep. Rob WoodallRob WoodallGOP budget chair may not finish her term Ensuring air ambulances don’t save lives only to ruin them with surprise medical bills Senators fight proposed tariffs on solar panels MORE (R-Ga.), who is not apart of the general aviation caucus but supports the spinoff effort.

It also shows that the "White House is committed to seeing this kind of corporatization take place," Woodall said.

The meeting comes as House leadership is preparing to bring a long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill to the floor that includes the contentious spinoff plan, which Trump formally endorsed earlier this year.

House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has been pushing the proposal for years, and returned to Washington this week with the goal of bringing more lawmakers on board with the idea, which stalled last year amid opposition from both parties.

This time around, however, Shuster is getting high-level reinforcements from the White House.

The spinoff proposal has passed through committee but has never been brought to the House floor, and supporters of the push are now working to shore up votes.

One area where supporters are looking to gain more support is among rural lawmakers who are concerned that the model — which would transfer the country’s air navigation system to a private nonprofit entity — would leave small airports and general aviation users behind.

Cohn told lawmakers that the administration supports Shuster's bill language, which is slightly different than the principles Trump released earlier this year. He also assured members that the White House is cognizant of their concerns and underscored the importance of the issue to the president.

The FAA also sent out a notice to Hill offices later in the day touting the benefits of the air traffic control overhaul.

Graves, a pilot who voted against the spinoff proposal last year, worked on compromise language with Shuster this year to exempt all general aviation users from any user fees imposed by the new entity and to ensure that the new board would have a diverse makeup.

Graves was at Wednesday’s meeting to help educate members about changes that have been made to the legislation since last year.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) - the only Republican to vote against the proposal in committee - was also at the gathering.

“We’ve got a lot of folks that are operating off of last year’s bill, which is a completely different bill. We want to get information out there,” Graves told reporters.

“Gary gave the White House perspective on what they want to do and what the president’s priorities are, and then I kind of walked through the details and the changes I had to have… and tried to ease some concerns.”

Graves said there is still some concern among lawmakers. Woodall said most of the concern centered on the new entity’s board composition.

And outside general aviation groups have not signed onto the proposal, despite the concessions won by Graves.

“There’s uncertainty about the unknown,” he said. “This is something different. It’s very different.”

Graves suggested that members send him language if they want to try to get it added as an amendment.

The House Rules Committee will likely tee up debate on the FAA bill next week, with amendments due Monday.

-This story was updated at 5:45 p.m.