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House Democrats sink bill with FAA extension, hurricane tax relief

Greg Nash

Legislation to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs and provide tax relief for victims of recent hurricanes failed on the House floor Monday after Democrats rejected it.

The package was considered under a fast-track process requiring a two-thirds majority for passage, known as suspension of the rules. House GOP leaders will likely return it to the floor later this week under a procedure that needs only a simple majority.

A total of 26 Democrats, mostly centrists or members from hurricane-affected states, refrained from endorsing their leaders’ strategy and joined all but eight Republicans in supporting the bill. 

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blasted Democrats for blocking the legislation from passing quickly on Monday.

“The human response we saw immediately following hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria are an inspiration to all Americans,” McCarthy said in a statement. “There was even a brief moment that our politics were put aside to support those in need. Sadly, it didn’t take long for Democrats to snap back into their partisan corner.”

Democratic leaders urged their rank-and-file to oppose the package because they thought the tax provisions didn’t go far enough and wanted to offer the DREAM Act to let young undocumented immigrants stay in the U.S. as an amendment.

“While many of us could support these proposals as part of an overall package that is balanced, we should not acquiesce in this one-sided process that omits Democratic priorities key to advancing the work of making opportunity more broadly available to the American people,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and ranking Democrats on the Transportation, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, and House Ways and Means committees wrote in a letter to colleagues.

The package includes a six-month extension of aviation programs, which are set to expire if Congress doesn’t act by Sept. 30.

“This extension is absolutely necessary to prevent a shutdown of FAA programs, delays in airport construction projects, and the possible furlough of thousands of FAA employees across the country,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said.

House Republicans are trying to push a controversial proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government as part of a long-term FAA reauthorization, but have so far been unsuccessful in moving it through the chamber.

The package also includes provisions to provide tax relief for people affected by recent hurricanes, as well as extend expiring programs to assist health centers with graduate medical education programs and provide care to people with severe immunodeficiency diseases.

Under the bill, disaster victims would be allowed to take money out of their retirement funds without paying the usual early-withdrawal penalties. It would also provide a tax credit for 40 percent of wages paid by an employer affected by the disaster to workers from core disaster areas.

The measure would further encourage charitable giving by eliminating limits on the deduction for charitable contributions for hurricane relief this year.

Democrats argued that more relief should be provided for hurricane victims and expressed opposition to another provision added into the package in response to the storms that encourages the creation of private flood insurance markets.

“Much more needs to be done to address the needs of Americans recovering from hurricanes and other natural disasters,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), whose Florida Keys-area district was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, expressed frustration with Democrats threatening to delay the measure’s passage.

“As often happens in this House, if something isn’t perfect then we get nothing. And that’s wrong,” Curbelo said during floor debate. “We can work together to do more later, and we should. But why should the perfect be the enemy of the good?”

Monday marked the third time in recent months that Democrats have prevented legislation from passing under suspension of the rules, which requires the two-thirds majority for passage, limits floor debate to 40 minutes and prohibits amendments. The process is usually reserved for noncontroversial bills.

In July, Democrats blocked the passage of the annual authorization for intelligence programs because they wanted a “full debate.” They also voted down a bill to restore funding for a veterans health-care program. Both bills ultimately passed a few days later.

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