By R. A. Dillon
May 8, 2008
WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Stevens urged his colleagues in the Senate to resume consideration of a wide-ranging aviation safety bill that stalled Tuesday over Republican objections to unrelated provisions.
Republicans blocked Democrats on the Senate floor from advancing the bill to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. The legislation includes a multibillion-dollar plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system by shifting it to a satellite-based system.
The bill has been the source of much partisan bickering during the past two weeks as lawmakers fought over how to pay for it.
Republicans also objected to a procedural move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that limited their ability to amend the legislation while including billions of dollars for highway trust fund reimbursements and other non-aviation language favored by Democrats.
“Unfortunately, our friends across the aisle bogged it down with extraneous provisions that do nothing to improve airline safety, and that don’t belong on this bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Democrats tried to end debate on the bill but failed to get the 60 votes necessary. The final vote was 49 to 42.
The House passed its version of the FAA reauthorization in September.
Stevens said passage of the reauthorization bill was vital to fund the estimated $8 billion to $10 billion modernization of the nation’s air traffic control system to make flights safer and more efficient.
“Congress must find a way to move forward on this bill without weighing it down with amendments totally unrelated to aviation,” he said.
Stevens wants Senate leadership to take up a compromise version of the bill he has co-sponsored with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that removes the non-aviation provisions. Stevens said the bill contains measures beneficial to Alaska, including an extension and additional funding for the Essential Air Service program, which guarantees rural communities receive a minimal level of scheduled air service.
The U.S. Department of Transportation currently subsidizes commuter airlines to serve 39 rural communities across the state that would otherwise not have regular air service.
It also contains increased funding for the Airport Improvement Program, which partially paid for recent improvements to the Fairbanks Airport Terminal.
The Stevens-Hutchison version drops a proposed surcharge of $25 per flight to support the overhaul of the air traffic control system from commercial air carriers and others utilizing the system.
Stevens also opposes any increase in the fuel tax burden for commercial airlines and general aviation aircraft, which Democrats suggested to replace the $25 surcharge.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, tried to add to the reauthorization bill a provision that would have deferred the tax debt for claimants in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation, but the change was blocked by Democrats.
“We’re very disappointed that Democrats used procedural measures to block anyone from adding amendments to the bill,” a top aide to Murkowski said.
Congress is required by law to reauthorize funding for the FAA every five years.
Senate Republican aides said Wednesday that Congress would likely extend the current FAA authorization through September 2009. The current bill expires June 30.
While the Senate could vote to extend funding for the FAA and leave debate over new projects until next year, that wouldn’t pay for upgrading the air traffic control system, Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders said.
The bill could come up again in the next couple of weeks if Democrats agree to drop the non-aviation related provisions, McConnell said.
Source: FAIRBANKS DAILY NEWS-MINER (AK)