Cantor Sells Dems’ ‘Cave’ to Build Support for FAA Fix

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 26, 2013 at 11:24am

Is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., concerned that his conference might reject a bill that empowers the Federal Aviation Administration to work around the sequester and halt the air-traffic-controller furloughs that have been causing those annoying flight delays?

The Senate cleared similar legislation Thursday evening before leaving town for a weeklong recess and even included in the package language deeming any similar bill passed by the House as automatically approved by the Senate. Passing this legislation, sponsored by Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, would appear to be a no-brainer for House Republicans, who have long argued that the sequester does not have to significantly affect critical government services if President Barack Obama applies the cuts smartly.

House Republicans have previously supported legislation that would grant Obama the power to do just that — a proposal that was rejected by both Senate Democrats and the administration until fear materialized of angry flight-delayed tarmac voters. So it was curious that Cantor, in a “Dear Colleague” letter to House Republicans announcing plans for a Friday floor vote on Latham’s FAA fix, urged support for the bill by citing CQ Roll Call reporter Steven T. Dennis’ tweet offering the following analysis:

Cantor in his letter adds that "this is a sentiment expressed in other press reports over the last 12 hours, including, Politico: 'Democrats blink first on aviation' and Chicago Tribune: 'White House Scrambles For Damage Control.'”

Read Cantor's letter below:

Dear Colleague:

Last night the Senate passed a bill to provide the FAA with increased authority to reprogram funds from lower priority items to air traffic control operations.  As a CQ / Roll Call reporter tweeted last night, “Make no mistake, this FAA fix is a complete, utter cave by Senate Democrats and, if signed, by the White House.” This is a sentiment expressed in other press reports over the last 12 hours, including, Politico: “Democrats blink first on aviation” and Chicago Tribune: “White House Scrambles For Damage Control.”

Consider that the Democrats opening position was they would only replace the sequester with tax increases.  By the first of this week Senator Reid proposed replacing the whole sequester with phony war savings. And by last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted “cut this, not that” approach. This victory is in large part a result of our standing together under the banner of #Obamaflightdelays.

After conferring with the other leaders, and in light of the pending constituent work week, it is my intention to schedule the text of the Senate passed bill for consideration today under suspension of the rules.  More information is provided below.


The House will consider under suspension of the rules an HR bill introduced by Congressman Latham that consists of the text of the Senate passed bill. We will consider an HR so that we preserve our constitutional role in originating appropriations measures. The Senate has already locked in a u.c. that if the House sends over a bill identical to the bill they passed last night, it will be cleared and sent to the President.


The bill permits the FAA to transfer $253 million in FY 2013 to air traffic controller salaries and expenses, thus negating the necessity for further furloughs of controllers through the end of the fiscal year. It pays for this by reducing Airport Improvement Program grants by the same amount. While the bill is neutral in terms of budget authority, the ten year bill score will show a slight $4 million increase in outlays due to the fact that salaries spend out at a significantly faster rate than construction grant programs.

The bill also contains language permitting Secretary LaHood to do additional transfers within FAA accounts. This may allow him to restore the FAA contract towers that were cut as part of the effort to reduce controller furloughs. An effort to include more robust language regarding restoration of contract towers was rejected in the Senate last night.