“Summer is the busiest travel time of the year,” said former FAA administrator Marion C. Blakey, now president of the Aerospace Industries Association. “No one wants to see the FAA turned upside down, especially now.”
This week, House Democrats bypassed Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) with a direct appeal to Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), urging him to schedule a conference committee meeting to resolve differences in long-term bills passed by the two bodies.
Mica has delegated staff members to work with the Senate to reach agreement, contending that “the current Senate leadership . . . refuse to negotiate in the best interest of the American public.”
From the Senate side, Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) fired back that “the House has demonstrated that it is not serious about getting a comprehensive bill done.”
The divide at the forefront of the argument is money: The House has approved a four-year plan that would cost $60.1 billion; the Senate passed a two-year bill at $34.5 billion.
But the real sticking points, staff members in both bodies say, are a trio of minor issues that matter more to some members of Congress than they do to the majority of the traveling public or the general aerospace industry.
Funding at 2007 levels?
The gallows humor making the rounds in the aviation community — with the 21st extension looming, stop-gap funding now will be old enough to drink — masks a real fear that the uncertainty of continuing to fund aviation at 2007 levels will stall airport expansionsand slow progress on a $40 billion air traffic system expected to revolutionize air travel.
“To the general public, there has been little apparent impact of this short-term funding arrangement, because the FAA continues to perform its core functions,” said Bobby Sturgell, former acting administrator at the FAA and now a vice president at aviation supplier Rockwell Collins. “However, the lack of long-term funding causes real damage to airport improvement projects, capital programs and certification of industry products, which provide jobs and promote economic activity. ”
Even another extension, usually a formality when Congress fails to advance funding packages, was thrown into doubt this week when Mica inserted controversial provisions in the House extension bill.
The White House on Wednesday denounced that bill because it “includes controversial provisions that, because they have not been negotiated, needlessly threaten critical FAA programs and jeopardize thousands of public and private sector jobs.”