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FAA Reauthorization One of the Few Major Bills to Move Forward in Congress in 2016

Posted @ Wednesday, April 06, 2016    By Zach Israel
Posted in [ Blog, Transportation, Legislative ] | 0 Comments


For the remainder of 2016, there are only two must-pass pieces of legislation remaining in Congress: (1) a massive Omnibus appropriations bill funding the federal government for fiscal year (FY) 2017, which will likely pass in the lame-duck period of November-December after the presidential election and following the enactment of a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government beginning October 1; and (2) the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). On March 30, President Obama signed the “Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2016” into law, which extends authorization and tax authority for the FAA through July 15, 2016; FAA authorization was set to expire on March 31. This gives the House and Senate just over three months to reach consensus and pass a long-term FAA reauthorization bill before Congress recesses for seven weeks from July 16-September 6, for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and the annual August summer recess.    


The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee passed, on February 11, the “Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016” (H.R. 4441), by a near party-line vote of 32-26. The AIRR Act would reauthorize the FAA through September 30, 2022 and includes a controversial provision which would privatize the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system in three years by spinning 38,000 federal workers into a private nonprofit corporation. The privatization of the ATC system has effectively grounded consideration of the AIRR Act to a complete halt. House GOP leadership has not (and likely will not) put the bill up for a vote by the full House any time soon, due to the controversial provisions in the bill.


On March 16, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed, by a unanimous vote, its own FAA reauthorization bill, the “Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016” (S. 2658), which would reauthorize the FAA through September 30, 2017. This bill, unlike the AIRR Act, does not contain the privatization of the ATC system, making it much less controversial than the House’s counterpart bill. According to the Senate Commerce Committee, the bill “supports U.S. jobs, improves safety, advances beneficial drone technology, and helps passengers [and] does not raise taxes or fees on the traveling public.”


On April 4, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate will be using a tax bill passed by the House last year, the “America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015” (H.R. 636), as a vehicle upon which the FAA Reauthorization Act will ride (this is due to a rule stating that all legislation including tax-related provisions must originate from the House). Because the FAA bill will likely be the last tax bill to be considered by the Senate before the fall elections, negotiations are underway to attach the extension of some expired clean energy tax breaks to the bill. Additionally, several transportation security-related amendments will likely be considered by the full Senate, in the aftermath of the Brussels airport attack last month. On April 6, the Senate took a key step forward on the FAA Reauthorization Act by voting, 98-0, to limit debate on the procedural motion to put the bill before the Senate. There will likely be at least a few votes on amendments to the bill before the full Senate passes the bill by the end of the week. If the Senate bill passes, it will go back to the House, where the AIRR Act has been languishing.


The next three months of consideration of the FAA Reauthorization Act will primarily be in the House’s court. Whether House GOP leadership (1) allows for an amendment process of S. 2658, ultimately bringing it up for a full vote by the House; (2) ignoring it entirely; or (3) attempting to vote on the House T&I Committee-passed AIRR Act, is currently a big unknown. What is known, is that the FAA will continue to be in the spotlight for the majority of the remaining legislative days Congress is in session this year.   

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