Texas House delegation split over Love Field rule

Less than two weeks after legislation was proposed to repeal the 1979 Wright Amendment, House Republican members of the Texas delegation have begun to line up on opposite sides of the issue while most delegation Democrats are still weighing their stances on the contentious state airport matter.

Texas Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Sam JohnsonSam JohnsonWeek ahead: Tech awaits Trump budget Older Americans Month — slashing funds for our seniors is the wrong thing to do Ryan transfers record M to House GOP's campaign arm in March MORE introduced legislation May 26 to repeal the amendment, which put restrictions on Dallas Love Field to protect then-newly opened Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in 1979.

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Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling.

The amendment restricts flights out of Love Field to Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Another amendment passed later added service to Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi. Southwest Airlines, based at Love Field, contends that the amendment is obsolete and serves only to benefit American Airlines, which currently occupies much of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

Southwest has turned down an offer from DFW of free rent for a year at the airport and more than $22 million in incentives. American Airlines defends the Wright Amendment, arguing that its repeal would cause economic damage to the North Texas economy.

 “It was important to initiate a debate and research on it. Congressman Hensarling supports the immediate repeal [of the Wright Amendment] even though there is a variety of different opinions about it,” said Mike Walz, a spokesman for Hensarling. “The next weeks we hope to get additional co-sponsors. This is not an issue about an airline or an airport but about what is better for consumers. There is no doubt there are differing views right now and the delegation is divided.”

He added, “Hopefully over the next months we will find a solution. Maybe not in this Congress, but eventually the consumers will demand what’s better for them.” 

Texas GOP Reps. Ron Paul and John Culberson joined the co-sponsor list, along with Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Joe WilsonJoe WilsonCongress to take up North Korea travel ban legislation as soon as next month: report An unlikely home in DC Lobbying World MORE (R-S.C.), Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) and Butch Otter (R-Idaho), according to a Johnson spokesperson.

“The congressman would definitely like to see the Wright Amendment repealed,” said Jeff Deist, a spokesman for Paul. “It is a blatantly protectionist measure.”

But not all Texans support repealing the amendment. Four North Texas members of the delegation have voiced strong opposition to repealing the amendment and have vowed to defeat the Hensarling-Johnson legislation.

At a press conference May 26, Republican Reps. Kay GrangerKay GrangerWeek ahead: House digs into annual defense bill Overnight Defense: Senate approves Russia, Iran sanctions | GOP chair expects to surpass Trump defense budget | Nude photo scandal could lead to court-martial Defense appropriations chairwoman expects to surpass Trump budget MORE, Michael BurgessMichael BurgessMedicaid efficiency is needed now, more than ever In the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue New hope for ObamaCare repeal? Key GOP lawmaker working on amendment MORE, Joe Barton and Kenny Marchant cited economic concerns and airfare costs as a reason to keep Love under its current restrictions.

“It’s a local-economy issue,” Granger said in a statement. “There’s an answer to this, and it isn’t repealing the Wright Amendment.”

Gina Vaughn, a spokeswoman for Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), said, “Congressman Sessions is not supportive of an immediate repeal of the Wright Amendment. At the same time, he does not believe that keeping the Wright Amendment in perpetuity is the correct solution on this issue.”

Vaughn said Sessions was concerned that an immediate repeal would have a negative effect on the regional economy because “business plans that affect the regional economy have been built around the existence of the Wright Amendment for more than 30 years now.”

Love Field is located in Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D-Texas) congressional district. While she has not yet taken a position on the issue, as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — where the legislation has been referred — she plans to watch the debate closely.

“Her primary concern rests squarely on the issue of job preservation, safety and air traffic control. Until she is presented with a clear and unbiased view of what repealing or maintaining the status quo will do, she is unlikely to take a firm position at this time,” said Lisa Hanna, a Johnson spokeswoman.

Other members are also hedging their bets on Love Field and waiting to see how the debate plays out.

Josh Noland, a spokesman for Rep. Randy NeugebauerRandy NeugebauerWarren’s regulatory beast is under fire – and rightfully so Dem senators to Trump: Don't tell consumer bureau chief 'you're fired' Overnight Finance: Carson, Warren battle at hearing | Rumored consumer bureau pick meets Trump | Trump takes credit for Amazon hirings | A big loss for Soros MORE (R-Texas), said, “He understands why it was passed in the early ’80s.”

Noland added that while Neugebauer is not taking a strong position on the bill, the congressman believes it is “a good idea to review laws every now and then” to make sure they are still relevant.

Texas Reps. Michael Conway (R), Chet Edwards (D), Solomon Ortiz (D), John Carter (R), Lamar Smith (R), Kevin BradyKevin BradyHouse chairman calls on Senate to redo Russia sanctions bill before recess GOP chairman: More tax-reform hearings coming in July Overnight Finance: CBO finds 22M more uninsured under Senate health bill | GOP agrees ObamaCare taxes must go | Supreme Court to look at Dodd-Frank whistleblower protections | More tax reform hearings | Green light for partial travel ban | MORE (R), Ted PoeTed PoeHouse bill threatens Russia with nuclear treaty suspension For the sake of police, don’t back the Back the Blue Act Will McConnell and Ryan put party over country in defense of Trump? MORE (R) and Michael McCaul (R) are also undecided on the issue. Some other members of the delegation could not be reached for comment.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) urged caution in making any sudden changes to the Wright Amendment.

“Senator Hutchison will only support changes to the Wright Amendment once a comprehensive impact study proves that the regional airport and communities won’t suffer economically,” Chris Paulitz, press secretary for Hutchison, said in an e-mail. “The amendment should remain in place until we know it’s no longer necessary to protect Metroplex taxpayers.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan Cornyn: Key vote to advance health bill likely Wednesday GOP ObamaCare fight faces do-or-die procedural vote MORE (R-Texas), said, “Both sides in this dispute have made a strong case for their position; both have merit. Any resolution to this issue must benefit the people of Texas without unduly disrupting the numerous commitments made as a result of the existing law.”

Currently, there is no companion legislation in the Senate. According to reports, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is working on legislation to repeal the amendment; a spokesman said he is still researching the issue.

Djamila Grossman contributed to this report.