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FAA Passage Likely, But Timing Unclear in Senate as Deadline Looms

The current Federal Aviation Administration authorization ends on Sunday

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told CQ that weekend work is possible if Senate can't get to FAA bill by Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told CQ that weekend work is possible if Senate can't get to FAA bill by Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Even after lawmakers in both chambers took a major step toward a long-term Federal Aviation Administration authorization over the weekend, the path to enactment before a Sunday deadline remains uncertain as several other important votes jockey for floor time in the Senate.

The House is scheduled to vote this week on the five-year bill, which members of the House and Senate from both parties agreed to early Saturday morning, but the Senate schedule is less certain.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune and aides on both sides of the Capitol outlined three possibilities for Senate action: the chamber could pass the bill this week, senators could work into the weekend, or they could pass a short-term extension and hold a final vote next week.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s schedule allows for a floor vote in that chamber as early as Wednesday. 

Thune, R-S.D., said the Senate would take it up after House passage, which he expected either Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely try to vote on a water resources bill earlier this week, and timing could also be affected by events related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to Thune — the No. 3 Senate Republican.

A Senate vote on the FAA bill would depend on when leaders could find time to “slot it in,” Thune said. He added that staying through the weekend may improve the chances.

“If we are here through the weekend, however, then my guess is we’ll have, hopefully, a chance to get on it and get it done before the deadline,” he said.

Other options

Lawmakers may also pass a short-term extension this week, which could be easier for the Senate to advance than the full authorization. Thune said, as he has for weeks, he’d prefer to just pass the authorization bill instead of an extension.

“I’ve said all along we don’t want to do that,” he said. “If we had to, it’d be very short. Because when we do get it from the House, then it’s just a question of us finding time to slot it in and get it voted on here.”

In his floor statement Monday, McConnell said the Senate would “soon” take up the FAA and water resources bills. 

In addition to providing the first long-term FAA authority since 2012, the bill would authorize:

  • $1.7 billion for aid to areas affected by Hurricane Florence.
  • An overhaul of Federal Emergency Management Administration payouts.
  • A reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety Board, and the first-ever authorization of the Transportation Security Administration.

It also includes some foreign policy provisions and legislation on sports medicine licensing, which provided the original legislative shell for all the other measures.

Although airport interest groups were unhappy with the bill, other groups in the transportation and aviation sectors — including airlines, labor groups, drone manufacturers and a truck safety group — praised the agreement. 

The considerable support from far-ranging interest groups likely means the bill will become law in the near future. McCarthy scheduled it for a vote under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority, indicating House leaders at least are confident of passage. 

Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives said in a joint statement Monday they would not support the bill, but declined to explicitly say they’d actively oppose it.

The bill did not change a $4.50-per-flight federal cap on passenger facilities charges. Airports use the PFC money to fund construction and had sought an increase to the cap. The bill did include language mandating a study of the issue. 

Similarly, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said Saturday he was disappointed the bill did not include his measure that would have capped the fees airlines can charge for changing reservations.

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