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Less turbulent ride for FAA bill predicted in House

Senate lawmakers had threatened to hold up the bill but failed to add unrelated measures

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.,  tried to remove provisions from the FAA bill that add flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., tried to remove provisions from the FAA bill that add flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House is expected to easily clear the bicameral Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, sending the measure to the president’s desk with time to spare before a Friday funding deadline.

The legislation is scheduled to be considered in the House Tuesday under suspension of the rules. The measure would reauthorize the FAA at $105 billion over five years and includes priorities aimed at overhauling aircraft certification and improving aviation safety.

It would increase authorizations for FAA operations to $66.7 billion total over the term, starting at $13 billion for fiscal 2024, which ends on Sept. 30. That’s up from $11.5 billion in fiscal 2023. From there, topline authorizations reach $14 billion for operations in fiscal 2028.

The measure would boost authorizations for the Airport Improvement Program, which funds new infrastructure, to $4 billion a year, the first increase for a program that’s been set at $3.4 billion annually for the past 10 years.

The bill passed the Senate the evening of May 9 in a 88-4 vote after a fraught amendment process as some senators threatened, but failed, to hold up an agreement to fast-track the bill unless they received floor votes on their amendments. The Senate also cleared a short-term extension of existing authority. President Joe Biden signed the extension the next day, moving the deadline from May 10 to Friday.  

Before passage, Senate leadership sidestepped votes on measures from Virginia Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who oppose a provision that would add five round-trip flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. They and other lawmakers from states close to the airport say it’s already overcrowded and more flights could affect safety.

Maryland Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen joined Kaine and Warner in voting against the bill. Other lawmakers hailing from the West, however, contend that extra flights would open up Washington to more travelers. 

Senate negotiators were also able to stave off demands for votes on unrelated amendments from Sens. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo. 

Hawley, who had demanded a vote on his amendment that mirrors his bill that would expand compensation to victims of radiation exposure, said he voted for the FAA bill because leadership included language in the FAA bill regarding airline refunds. That provision would require air carriers to automatically provide refunds on certain canceled or delayed flights. 

Hawley’s radiation exposure bill passed 69-30 in the chamber in March as a stand-alone measure, but adding it to the FAA bill would’ve ensured the measure was primed for passage in the House. But Hawley said May 9 he was content that Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., had agreed to meet with radiation exposure victims this week.

Vance had threatened to hold up the bill to receive a vote on his amendment that takes the form of a bill that would extend an internet subsidy program for low-income households. Vance ultimately voted for the bill without any consideration of his amendment.

Senators had added 10 negotiated, germane amendments to the text as part of a substitute amendment last week without separate votes, including one that would require airports receiving certain federal funds to install universal restroom changing stations and another aimed at boosting drone test operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., who had an amendment to attach a bill that would aim to reduce credit card fees, said in an interview before the vote that he was “disappointed” about the lack of amendment consideration.

“I came up here to take the tough votes, but we’re not doing that,” he said. “They’ve taken away all the power that senators have. … We want to see a change in leadership so that we can go back to regular order.”

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