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Senate Clears Big Aviation, Opioid Legislation Under Shadow of Brett Kavanaugh and FBI

Pending water resources deal could be last major legislative item before Election Day

A reauthorization of the FAA will be among the final pieces of big-ticket legislation to pass before Election Day. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A reauthorization of the FAA will be among the final pieces of big-ticket legislation to pass before Election Day. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate’s never-ending Supreme Court drama continued to overshadow a pair of bipartisan legislative wins — with at least one more expected before Election Day.

As senators awaited a supplemental report from the FBI about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, they cleared for President Donald Trump a big bipartisan bundle of bills to combat the opioid scourge and a long-awaited reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Wednesday’s session volleyed back and forth between partisan speeches about the Supreme Court battle and bipartisan cheers for various provisions of the two bicameral deals that cleared the Senate.

“In creating new protections and enhancements for the flying public, this bill creates five years of stable policy direction for the aviation community,” Commerce Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said in a statement after passage of the five-year FAA bill.

Among the more popular provisions of the transportation measure might be the culmination of a crusade led by Sen. Lamar Alexander to ensure a blockade on in-flight phone calls.

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“Keeping phone conversations off commercial flights may not be enshrined in the Constitution, but surely it is enshrined in common sense,” the Tennessee Republican said in a statement. “Stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies from those who wander around shouting personal details into their phones: babbling about next week’s schedule, orders to an assistant, or arguments with spouses. Now imagine nearly two million passengers, hurtling through space yapping their innermost thoughts while you travel restrained by your seatbelt and unable to escape.”

Speaking earlier in the day on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said more than 70 senators had contributed to the opioid package, which was adopted mid-afternoon Wednesday.

“Every one of our colleagues represents families who have grappled with the loss of livelihoods and loved ones at the hands of this crisis. And nearly every one of them has contributed provisions to make this a truly comprehensive response,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Democrats lauded both pieces of legislation, as well.

Among the many provisions in the opioid measure is a bipartisan proposal from Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to promote access to recovery coaches for individuals battling addiction.

“When I travel across Connecticut, I hear over and over again how addiction has been tearing families and communities apart,” Murphy said in a statement. “The opioid crisis in this country is getting worse, and for the last two years, Republicans have spent most of their time trying to decimate treatment funding.”

The FAA and opioid packages, which each passed overwhelmingly when the Senate agreed to adopt House amendments that made up the bicameral agreements, are likely among the last major vehicles moving before voters go to the polls next month.

McConnell has said the Senate will be in session for much of October. The Kentucky Republican has insisted throughout the week the Senate will be voting with respect to the Kavanaugh’s nomination before the end of the week.

With the fate of that nomination still unresolved and a slew of other Trump nominees still pending, a fair amount of the floor time after Columbus Day could be spent processing nominations.

With the farm bill already punted to the post-election lame duck session, the last big bill may be the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming and ranking Democrat Thomas R. Carper of Delaware said Wednesday the pre-conferenced water resources bill would likely receive a floor vote after the Senate finishes considering the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court.

The flurry of authorization activity follows earlier congressional wins when the House and Senate passed five of the 12 full appropriation bills for fiscal 2019 ahead of the September 30 deadline, covering roughly $1 trillion in discretionary spending.

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023