By Kathryn A. Wolfe
With a deadline approaching for reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, lawmakers in both chambers are beginning to plan another short-term extension for the agency.
Though aides said they still hope the Senate Finance Committee might find time this year to act on its piece of a multi-year reauthorization, it seems increasingly unlikely as the Senate focuses on health care legislation. The current short-term authorization (PL 111-69) expires Dec. 31.
House and Senate aides said the most likely course would be a three-month extension for the agency through the end of March. The House will likely take the lead on an extension.
Jim Berard, spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said nothing has been drafted yet, but acknowledged the tight schedule.
“I think we have to be prepared with some kind of extension, and three months is probably the most likely candidate at this point,” he said. “Unless the Senate suddenly kicks into hyperdrive.”
A senior Democratic Senate aide agreed that a three-month extension was likely. He said that would give senators enough time to gear up next year and that they are pressing for the full reauthorization to be first out of the gate in 2010.
A Democratic Senate Finance Committee aide said Tuesday that a “short-term extension may well be needed,” while adding that Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., “remains committed to a full reauthorization as soon as we can make it happen.”
Contentious legislative initiatives delayed too far into next year, however, run the risk of becoming entangled in election year politics.
Another extension also would push the deadline for acting on a multi-year bill past President Obama’s next budget request. That budget could contain more details on proposed new aviation user fees that could further roil consideration of the bill.
The House passed its bill (HR 915) in May, and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved its version (S 1451) in July. The Finance Committee has yet to approve the revenue portion, which has left the bill languishing in the Senate.
“It seemed like they were trying to figure out whether they needed a hearing, polling their members, whether they were just going to go with last year’s agreement or not,” said one senior Democratic Senate aide.
Aides and aviation industry lobbyists said some Democrats on the Finance Committee wanted to hold a hearing on the revenue title of the bill as well as a markup, but working those into a schedule packed with health care deliberations is problematic.
Source: AIRPORT BUSINESS (CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY)