Anxiety mounts as FAA deadline nears

Anxiety mounts as FAA deadline nears
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Lawmakers and stakeholders are growing increasingly concerned about the prospect of another short-term Federal Aviation Administration extension with just 19 legislative days left before the agency’s legal authority expires.

Passing a clean reauthorization would be a blow to the aviation industry and Senate committee leaders who muscled a wide-ranging FAA proposal through the upper chamber on a 95-3 vote.

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It also would likely mean leaving out provisions in the Senate-passed measure meant to speed up checkpoint lines and beef up security in airports, two issues lawmakers have been clamoring to address ahead of the summer travel season.

“I don’t want to go down this path of doing short-term extensions,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters this week. “We’ve got a bill that addresses the full breadth of issues that we need to fix with the FAA and with transportation aviation security.”

While pieces of the Senate’s FAA bill could be peeled off for separate votes, it would risk upsetting the careful balance of trade-offs in the measure, leaving limited options for lawmakers if the House decides to move ahead with a short-term patch.

“It’s almost impossible to pull off individually,” Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Transportation Committee, told The Hill. “You’ve got to get something as a package.”

In February, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced a long-term FAA reauthorization that contains a controversial provision to separate the nation’s air traffic control system from the agency. The legislation has remained stalled amid concerns from GOP tax -writers and appropriators.

Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Wednesday he is still working to push the proposal through the House and has been getting positive feedback from members, though he said he has no plans to tweak the legislation.

Shuster has shown little interest in taking up the Senate version.

“The Senate bill is not real reform,” he told The Hill.

But the FAA’s legal authority expires July 15, and there are few signs that his opponents have changed their minds. Both Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyLawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families How centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment On The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm MORE (R-Texas) and Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee said that as of Wednesday, they have not discussed privatizing air traffic control with Shuster.

“We’ve got no indication from any other stakeholders on the Hill that their views have substantially changed, and we’re getting closer and closer to this July 15 expiration,” said Tom Hendricks, president and CEO of the National Air Transportation Association. “We just haven’t seen a lot of different constituencies changing their positions, including both the Democratic and the more conservative members on the House side.”

Thune worries another short-term patch could start a fight on contentious tax breaks in the Senate. The chamber avoided a messy battle over the long-term bill by not including renewable energy tax provisions favored by Democrats, but the issue could crop up again.

“We succeeded in passing an FAA bill through the Senate that didn’t include unrelated tax provisions,” Thune said. “There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to do that again if the House’s indecision leads to a last-minute need to avoid an aviation disruption with another extension.”

Lawmakers’ plates are already full this month with work on spending bills, emergency funding for the Zika virus and legislation to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

A clean FAA bill would give Shuster more time to garner support for his spin-off plan down the road.

“Recent reports suggest that [Shuster] may propose a simple extension of FAA programs into next year,” Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said in a statement last week. “The impact of such a proposal would mean that bipartisan provisions in both the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed FAA bills ... would not be enacted.”

While the aviation community has been split on privatizing air traffic control, the industry is united in not wanting another temporary extension of the FAA, which hasn’t seen a long-term reauthorization since 2012.

“Short-term extensions are not the answer,” said Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which supports Shuster’s proposal. 

Hendricks said, “It creates a lot of uncertainty for our members and for the FAA. The least helpful scenario would be to lose all the good work contained in both [the House and Senate] bills.”

Lawmakers could work to pass individual components of the FAA bill in order to address more pressing issues like aviation security and airport lines. But taking an incremental approach could discourage lawmakers from working on a longer reauthorization.

Plus, some measures in the FAA reauthorization — like one to expand enrollment in the PreCheck program at the Transportation Security Administration — have been unable to pass the Senate as stand-alone measures.

Stakeholders say splitting up the Senate FAA bill could throw off the entire recipe that enabled it to amass such strong support in the first place.

“It’s not as simple as breaking out the provisions. You run the risk of unbaking the cake,” Hendricks said. “You simply can’t assume all these provisions would move forward in a noncontroversial manner.”