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Text: Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle on Airline Safety and the Economy

Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001

Following is the transcript of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle's news conference on how the "vital aspects of restoring our economy is ensuring that people feel safe and feel good about traveling again." House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and Leo Mullin, chairman and chief executive of Delta Air Lines, also spoke.

MULLIN:Thank you all very much.

My name is Leo Mullin. I'm chairman and chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines.

We have just had a meeting with representatives of the Congress led by Senator Daschle, Senator Nickles and others. And we have discussed the issues that have been associated with underpinning our aviation system to make sure we can competently continue to serve the American public.

Quite obviously, we were very affected--all of us emotionally, but also in a business sense from the tragic incidents of last week. We in the airline industry are going to suffer a great deal of financial pain associated with the outcome of these tragic events.

We have been working in the last week with the federal government, primarily on establishing a new safety structure for aviation in America that will continue to give everybody in America the confidence that they can safely use our aviation system. And we think, through the tremendously effective work of the U.S. government and the airline industry, that we have achieved that in the new safety measures that have been taken.

There are, however, important financial implications with respect to the revenue impact that the airlines are going to face. Clearly, our revenue is going to be down for a period of time during such time as people continue to gain confidence in the aviation system, which we in the airline industry are confident is there.

We are very pleased with the reception that we have received from the administration and the Congress on working on these issues. We are confident that we are going to be able to move swiftly to resolution of a program to deal with the issues that we face, such that aviation can continue to underpin the American economy as it has done so well through history.

Thank you all very much.


DASCHLE:We said from the very beginning that our first and foremost goal is to help the families and the victims of the tragedy of last week.

Obviously, one of those parts of our economy most adversely affected by what happened last week are the airlines. There is no doubt that they are struggling. But there is equally no doubt that working together we can survive this and we can put them and all of those associated with our transportation and infrastructure back in the position of strength that we need to be.

Without a doubt, one of the most vital aspects of restoring our economy is ensuring that people feel safe and feel good about traveling again. We want to work with our airline representatives to ensure that we do that as quickly as possible.

We have no specifics today. We have no plan specifically in mind. But the work to put that plan together begins immediately. We'll work here in the Senate with hearings as early as Thursday. I'm told, in the House, that we will see action very expeditiously as well.

We also are determined, as you can see by our presence this afternoon, once again, that we're going to work as closely together as we address this issue, as we possibly can on a bicameral, bipartisan basis. We will work with the administration to put the legislative package and the effort together in as expeditious, but as comprehensive a way as we possibly can.

There are many, many challenges. This is one of the most important. And we're going to work as we did last week to try to find a constructive way to address this issue in the quickest and most effective way possible.

NICKLES: Senator Daschle, thank you. I appreciate your leadership in this, as well as Mr. Mullin and the airline industry.

We are going to work together, Congress and the administration and the industry, to try to make sure that everybody has confidence when they get on an American airplane that it's going to be safe.

And there's a lot of actions that you'll be seeing in the next few days, both administratively and congressionally, to try and make sure that that happens.

We want people to have confidence. We have the greatest airline industry in the world. We have had enormous success. Last Tuesday was a disaster. And so, we want to give everybody confidence when they get on the plane in the future that it's going to be safe. We can do that. And it will take good bipartisan cooperative effort, and I'm confident that we'll show that.

(UNKNOWN):The speaker asked me attend this meeting today, and we began last week, of course, in the House, to work on the importance of sending the right kind of messages to the capital markets that relate so dramatically to the airline industry.

We tried even under really extraordinary circumstances Friday to move a bill that every single member would have had to agree, and I think we were very close to that. And even that recognition, I think, had some impact over the last few days that the House was aware of this problem. We were eager to move toward a solution. We understood, last Friday when we took a bill to the floor that this would be legislation, if we did happen to pass it under unanimous consent, that we'd have this week to work with the Senate on a final and refined package.

But clearly the House wants to move forward. The airline industry does--is effected in a unique way here, because of the requirement that all planes be grounded. Other sectors of the economy are going to have impact, but not that same kind of impact or that same kind of initiation of the problem.

(UNKNOWN):We intend to move in the House tomorrow, in fact, with a hearing in the Transportation Infrastructure Committee, and I think there's a possibility that we can move even further with legislation this week.

But as Senator Daschle said, and I know Senator Nickles and Congressman Gephardt agree, we really want to do this with unity. We want to do this working with the administration so that when we do arrive at a package, it's a package that not only passes one house, but passes both houses, is signed by the president and quickly provides the kind of initial relief that we all at that time will have decided is the best way to deal with this situation.

Having the leaders of all the airlines in town today meeting with the secretary of transportation, meeting with the administration, coming up here and seeing leaders in the Congress is a helpful start for us to be able to ask lots of questions in a hurry that we couldn't have asked in any other way. And we're going to be working hard on this this week.

GEPHARDT: Let me just commend the leadership of these airlines. This is an example of how the leadership of our country and the people of our country are coming together, binding ourselves together, working together in an honest and straightforward way to solve the challenge that we all face together.

Let me also say that this industry is part of the economic foundation of this country. When we talk about the airline industry, we're not just talking about 10 or nine companies.

We're talking about the makers of airplanes. We're talking about the makers of airplane motors. We're talking about the tourism industry. We're talking about the hotel industry. And we're talking about a whole range of industries that really depend on airlines being used.

Finally, let me say to the public that the most important thing for all us to do is to get back on airplanes and show our confidence in the safety of this system. We're going to undoubtedly have, either in this legislation or soon legislation, efforts to improve the safety; but the safety's already been improved.

I was on an airplane yesterday to St. Louis and then back to Baltimore. The workers in the airlines and the safety workers have already completed some training. They have increased security at the airports. And I think it is time for all us to show the confidence in this industry and in the future of this economy. Airplanes are safe. Let's get back on them. Let's resume normal life in this country.

QUESTION:Did you all talk about National Airport and whether you feel it should be reopened?

DASCHLE:Well, I think there is a consensus that, at some point, it ought to be reopened. We, obviously, want people to feel safe, and we talked a good deal with our airline leaders about the need for safety. No one is more dedicated to safety than they are, and they have already begun talking about ways in which to make both airports and airplanes a lot safer.

Once we have that assurance that planes and airports are safer, my expectation is we'll see National reopening.


DASCHLE:I don't think it's appropriate at this point to lock into a number. As I said, that's exactly what the hearings are going to be designed to do, to hear out the specific proposals to talk about the rationale, to find the data behind the proposals themselves and to come to a conclusion. So once those hearings have been held, we're going to be in a much better position.

We talked about a lot of the specific costs associated with what the airlines have experienced, but we're not in a position I think to come to a conclusion about numbers yet.


DASCHLE:Well, I think that it is important for us to continue to recognize how time sensitive this whole matter really is. I think it's why the House is acting as early as tomorrow, and why the Senate may be acting as early as Thursday. It's a recognition of the extraordinary vulnerability that we see economically right now with all the airlines, some more than others.

QUESTION:Is the airline industry giving any, sort of, special consideration or treatment out of Congress?

DASCHLE:One of my colleagues have said it well. Clearly this is a vital part of restoring our economic health and strength.

There is no doubt that unless we put airlines back together in a way that gives all passengers the confidence that they can fly again, we're going to continue to suffer as a country economically. That is such a vital and key part of our infrastructure that we've got to take first things first.


DASCHLE:Well, again, I want to delay any commitment to specifics until after the hearings and after we've actually negotiated this legislative approach.

We're going to be working very closely with the administration, and as I said earlier, on both sides of the aisle in both Houses of Congress. And until we've had the opportunity to do that, it's probably very difficult to give you any specific information with regard to the bill itself or the approach we'll finally subscribe to.


DASCHLE:I think what the House came up with, and I'll only speak for myself, was a very good starting point. But even the airlines informed us today that circumstances have already changed since Friday. And that as a result of the changes in their financial circumstances and other matters, more information, more than anything else, they have a lot more data, a lot more specific appreciation of their current circumstances today than they had even last Friday. So it's important for us to take into account the new information as we put a proposal together.

QUESTION:In your experience, how long do you think it will take before the industry receives some aid?

DASCHLE:I think we do a disservice to the industry and to all of you by giving you any hypothetical deadline. What we're going to do is to work as quickly as we can, as constructively as we can, and ultimately, hopefully as successfully as we can, and I would hope that we could do it soon. Other than that, I can't give you any specific date.

QUESTION:What do you say to your Democratic colleagues, some of whom have expressed doubts about the need or the necessity of the airline to get bailed out--Congressman Doggett being one of them, Senator Hollings of South Carolina being the other, that this is an industry that (OFF-MIKE) hasn't done much to economize (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE:Well, I think that we have to hear out all of the concerns of our colleagues. We don't want to minimize those concerns. We've got to listen to each other and address whatever reservations senators and congressman have. That's what we'll be doing over the course of the next several days.

We're not going to come to any conclusions. We're not going to prescribe any particular formula. What we're going to do is to try to put the best package together, maybe not with unanimity, maybe with an overwhelming consensus, maybe even with a recognition that there're going to be understandable dissent. But no doubt, I think, should be left that we are going to address this problem.

(UNKNOWN):Let me say something about the House approach last week. It was not to--and there was no disagreement with that approach in the meeting today.

(UNKNOWN):And the approach was this is not ``do whatever the airlines would like to have done'' or might make them whole in some way beyond where they would have been this year, but to look carefully at the economic course the individual airline was on, how they were doing, what their expectations were--some formula that would be very reflective of that, and only try to assist in restoring some portion of where the airlines would've been. I don't know if that's a percentage that equals 100 percent or not, but not where they would've liked to have been in a perfect environment for them.

But we very clearly require that all the airlines to have access to any sort of funds we were talking about would have to essentially have an open-book approach with the administration. The administration would develop a formula that would assure them that this is not making up for bad past practices, that this is making up for problems that were created as a result of September the 11th.

We were clear on that in the House package. There was absolutely no disagreement that that kind of approach is the approach that everybody, including the airlines, thinks is fair. And I think that's the response to our colleagues that might say, ``Well, what about industry problems that were just endemic to the industry?''

That's not what we're talking about, and I think we can draft legislation that makes it clear that's not where we're headed. We're headed towards--we're staring into where they would've been in some way in a post-September 11 environment, and I think there are ways they can demonstrate where that would be.


(UNKNOWN):In terms of the size of the package, I think what Senator Daschle said is exactly right.

(UNKNOWN):We were putting the package on the floor last week that we thought was close, but we'd have a week to work with our friends in the Senate and the administration on that package.

Mostly, we were driven by the sense of how important it was to send a message to the capital markets and to the financial markets that Congress was aware of this problem. We were aware of the fact that the airlines were in a unique situation, and that we needed to send that message. Even though we didn't get this done on unanimous consent, I think we achieved part of our goal by at least creating an awareness that I heard over and over during the weekend, that the House almost did something this week, showed lots of evidence they were going to move forward, and we're doing more of that today.

QUESTION:(OFF-MIKE) has already been allocated, could be used this week, before Congress acts for the airlines.

GEPHARDT: Well, one of things we don't want to do is give the impression that this money is going to have to come out of the $40 billion. First of all, the $40 billion was for recovery. A lot of that, obviously, in New York and Virginia and Pennsylvania, but it also was to fund some of the defensive and intelligence and other efforts to respond to this crisis.

This is a separate matter. We want to deal with it in separate legislation. And we want to make it clear that we're going to deal with this on its own, because of all the reasons that you've heard this afternoon.

So obviously, some little parts of this might be affected by the $40 billion. But in the main, this has to be a separate piece of legislation with a separate commitment of the United States government to deal with these problems.

QUESTION:(OFF-MIKE) do you think that's a good idea, if nothing else as a symbolic gesture?

DASCHLE:I'll leave those issues to the airlines themselves.

This is going to be a tough job, as all of the jobs we will face are going to be. This is not easy. We need to work together, as I've said. And I think you've seen a demonstration of the united approach we hope to take. And we can't get into the details, because we don't have them today. As they become available, we'll certainly share them with you.

Thank you all very much.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company