Lawmakers awaiting a deal on how to avert a series of tax increases and spending cuts set to take affect early next month are biding their time by sorting out some issues at the nation’s airports.
The House gave final passage Wednesday to the No-Hassle Flying Act, a bill allowing the TSA to use more discretion in screening checked baggage arriving in the United States from certain international airports. Currently passengers arriving in the United States from countries with TSA-approved screening procedures don’t need to go through a security checkpoint after completing the customs process.
But checked baggage often must be re-screened by the TSA, a scenario that causes many passengers to miss connecting domestic flights, according to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). She said the current screening procedures have long deterred international tourists from visiting the United States and delayed the return of military troops flying home from overseas deployments.
Klobuchar admitted that her bill might not have passed so easily if there wasn’t a need to fill the time before a fiscal deal is reached: “I figure when you have a lull in action, use it to your advantage,” she said.
Also concerning the nation’s airports, senators unanimously approved a bill Tuesday requiring the Transportation Security Administration to turn over any clothing left behind at security checkpoints to homeless military veterans by partnering with local homeless shelters or veterans groups. The bill recently cleared the House, but must be passed there again because senators tweaked the bill’s language.
The bill’s supporters noted that thousands of hats, gloves, scarfs, jackets and other items of clothing get left behind each year at checkpoints. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) called the measure “a small, but significant opportunity” to help the nation’s homeless veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it counted 633,782 homeless veterans on American streets this year, a 7.2 percent decline from 2011.
With the clock ticking toward the end of the year and the 112th Congress, the airport bills are among several modest measures passed in recent days as the House and Senate eagerly await an opportunity to vote on the legislative branch’s marquee agenda item: A plan to avert a series of tax increases and spending cuts set to take affect in January.
On Wednesday the House gave final approval to a bill sponsored by outgoing Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) that will require the Department of Homeland Security to pass a full financial audit in 2013. Lawmakers have long sought an extensive review of the department’s finances as government watchdogs warn that DHS entities remain vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.
Despite the bills poised to pass this week, several other significant issues remain unresolved. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters this week that his non-fiscal to-do list includes striking a deal with the House on the annual defense authorization bill, a renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and approval of a $60 billion supplemental spending request from the White House to aid New York and New Jersey communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that he expects his chamber to also consider the supplemental request, but some fiscally conservative Republicans have signaled they want to slash federal spending by a similar amount in order to pay for storm aid.
The Obama administration and House Republicans are also in talks to strike a deal on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Aides said that Vice President Biden and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have met to discuss three major sticking points involving jurisdiction of tribal courts over non-Indian domestic abuse claims, extending the law’s protections to homosexual couples and possibly expanding the number of visas available to immigrants who cooperate with law enforcement in some prosecutions.
Despite ongoing talks between Senate Democrats and House Republicans, it appears unlikely that lawmakers will strike a deal in the closing weeks of the year to assist the ailing U.S. Postal Service, which is seeking changes to restrictions on its delivery schedule and pension payment schedule.
In the Senate, Democrats are also pushing to confirm 18 judicial nominees currently languishing on the docket. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) warned Wednesday that the continued backlog in judicial nominees means President Obama likely will not match the 205 judicial nominees confirmed during President George W. Bush’s first term, a precedent that is “bad for our federal courts and for the American people who depend on them for justice.”
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost