July 20, 2011

Rahall: House Republican Tactics Jeopardize FAA Negotiations

Washington, D.C.– U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today warned that tactics by House Republicans to force major policy provisions into an otherwise noncontroversial funding extension for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could jeopardize efforts to enact a multi-year reauthorization.

“Holding hostage the negotiations is not the way to move the reauthorization process forward.  In fact, it is almost guaranteed to set us back in our efforts to work with the Senate and reach agreement on a long-term reauthorization,” said Rahall, on the floor of the House during debate on a short-term FAA extension.  “I object to the tactics used by the Republicans and I implore them to act in good faith to work toward enactment of a long-term reauthorization bill that will put Americans to work and improve the safety of our skies.”

The House earlier this year voted to approve the “FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011” (H.R. 658), a highly controversial four-year reauthorization of the FAA introduced by Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL).  H.R. 658 proposes dangerous funding cuts that would destroy American jobs and would lead to a reduction in safety personnel and delay important aviation safety initiatives.  The Senate voted to pass a drastically different FAA reauthorization bill.

Pending enactment of a long-term reauthorization bill, Congress has passed a series of short-term extension acts since 2007 extending the FAA’s authority to administer aviation programs.  The House today approved the “Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2011, Part IV” (H.R. 2553), which would extend the FAA through September 16, 2011.

Rahall chided House Republicans for including a policy provision that would cut 13 small and rural communities from the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which provides subsidies to communities that would not otherwise receive air service, because it could jeopardize the extension’s passage in the Senate.  If the House and Senate cannot reach a compromise by the end of the current authorization on July 22, 2011, the FAA will be forced to furlough thousands of workers and will not be authorized to operate any of its capital programs.

“If Republicans want to sever the arteries of commerce that link rural America to the global system of commerce, they ought to do it in an open and transparent process instead of jamming it through at the last minute on a must-pass FAA extension bill,” said Rahall.  “There have been no hearings on proposals to reduce EAS and no hearings on this proposal, in particular.”

On April 7, 2011, the Senate requested the House meet in a conference to resolve the differences between the House- and Senate-passed long-term FAA reauthorization bills.  More than 100 days later, the House has taken no action to agree to a conference.

“This past Saturday marked the 100th day since the Senate appointed conferees on long-term FAA reauthorization legislation.  The sun has risen and set over the Capitol more than 200 times since then, and House and Senate negotiators have boiled down the remaining issues to just a few,” said Rahall.  “But House Republican leadership still has not appointed conferees to move this process forward – despite the fact that, as Committee Chairman John Mica acknowledged to the press late last week, the remaining differences are so few that they could be resolved by conferees in 20 minutes.  So what is the Republican leadership waiting for?”

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday, Rahall and U.S. Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL), top Democrat on the Aviation Subcommittee, called on the Speaker to appoint a conference committee to move the process forward in an open and transparent fashion.

“There has not been one meeting of the senior Republican and Democratic Members of the House and Senate committees to resolve the remaining differences between the House and Senate bills,” Rahall and Costello wrote.  “As a result, the FAA has continued to operate under a series of short-term extensions acts that are slowing airport construction jobs and costing taxpayers millions of dollars and the Nation tens of thousands of family-wage jobs.”

While House Republicans prevented Democrats from offering any amendments to the FAA extension bill, Rahall was allowed one opportunity under the rules of the House to address an issue that came to light in June after a commercial airline charged soldiers returning home from Afghanistan to travel with their military equipment.

Members of the Armed Forces carry their personal and military equipment on aircraft when traveling to and from overseas deployments to war zones, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.  Some airlines have profited by imposing baggage fees – nearly $3,000 worth in one case – on members of the Armed Forces traveling to and from these war zones.

Recognizing the tremendous debt owed by every American to members of the Armed Services, Rahall attempted to add a section to H.R. 2553 that would prohibit airlines from imposing baggage fees on U.S. military personnel who are traveling to or from overseas deployments with four or fewer bags.  Every Republican but three in the House voted to block Rahall’s addition to the bill.

“The men and women who make great personal sacrifices to protect the safety and welfare of the Nation should not incur personal expense and financial hardship when traveling in service of their country.  Soldiers should not be given a bill with their boarding passes,” said Rahall.  “We have a duty to ensure that our Nation’s airlines treat our warriors with the respect that they deserve for defending our country.”

Rahall this morning organized a regional jobs fair in his district with employers, educators, and representatives from the federal and state government agencies to continue working to level the playing field for military veterans competing for jobs.  Rahall participated in the jobs fair from Washington, D.C., via video-conference.