Bipartisan bills hit a brick wall in election-year gridlock

A slew of bills that have attracted bipartisan support are stalled in Congress and face an uncertain future this election year.

Bills ranging from aviation reform to charitable vehicle donations to pancreatic cancer have hit a legislative brick wall.

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Authors of the bills have focused on building bipartisan co-sponsor support, seeking political leverage to get their measures passed.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) unveiled the Pilot’s Bill of Rights last summer. Inspired by a run-in with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) following a shaky landing on a Texas runway, the bill would turn around the FAA’s disciplinary stance of “guilty until proven innocent,” Inhofe said. The senator landed on a closed runway in late 2010, triggering an FAA probe.

The legislation has 62 co-sponsors and been endorsed by actor Harrison Ford, who is also a pilot.

“It is very high on our priorities for this legislative session,” Inhofe told The Hill. “I individually began getting co-sponsors on this months ago with the idea of getting up to 60.”

Inhofe began chatting with Republicans first, he said, because he can “communicate better with them.” But in order to secure the support of a majority of the Senate, he had to engage the other party. Inhofe praised Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who worked on getting signatures from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Inhofe claims that Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are in favor of moving the measure, but cannot officially sign on because of their leadership positions.

The Oklahoma senator is looking to attach his bill to another larger measure moving through Congress: “We may fold [the bill] as an amendment to another piece of legislation.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.), bill, a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act — which must be reauthorized every four years as part of a stipulation in the original legislation from 1994 — is set to hit the Senate floor after the Easter/Passover recess, Leahy’s press secretary David Carle said in an email.

On March 22, the bill had just gained its 61st co-signer, which Leahy’s office hopes will “help it overcome the general obstruction that faces just about every major bill in this Congress.”

California Rep. Anna Eshoo (D) has expressed confusion on why her bill had not moved.

The Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act has 225 co-sponsors and aims to provide a grant and research program for pancreatic cancer, as well as other forms of the deadly disease.

“I asked my friend [who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer] why there was not the amount of support from more people, as there are for other cancers,” the congresswoman recalled during a telephone interview, “He said, ‘Because they don’t survive, Anna.’”

Pancreatic cancer has a six percent 5-year survival rate, more than one-tenth the survival rate for other forms of cancer.

Eshoo said she has tried to stay in contact with the chairmen of the panel chairmen that have jurisdiction of her bill — Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) — by phone or by reaching out to them on the floor.

She called Upton after speaking to The Hill, according to an Eshoo aide.

Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, confirmed that Eshoo called him during a brief interview on Capitol Hill.

“A very close friend lost his wife to pancreatic cancer,” Upton said. He mentioned, “running some traps” to make the legislation a priority.

“I have it right in the middle of my desk,” he said, before ducking into a meeting.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson’s (D-Conn.) bill, which would  incentivize charitable vehicle donations, has 242 co-sponsors. A drop in donations has caused the more than 5,000 non-profits nationwide — that rely on the donations to operate — to cut back on community services, according to Larson's office.