Whither Reauthorization?

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What if they gave an FAA reauthorization bill and no one came? That question may be on the minds of many as one supposed deadline after another for the House of Representatives to develop its proposed version of a legislation reauthorizing the agency -- and hopefully disposing of user fees -- comes and goes. First, the scuttlebutt was that a proposal would be ready by Memorial Day. Then, we were told mid-June. Now, it appears a political disagreement involving the agency's existing contract with air traffic controllers is the hang up. That might be a good thing, depending on where you are on the user-fee debate and considering it means other elements of the bill seemingly have been agreed to -- but bad when you consider that the contract is likely to be a major bone of contention, possibly holding up the whole show later this year. It seems House Democrats are awaiting results from ongoing discussions between the FAA and the air traffic controllers union, NATCA. According to published reports, if the two sides can't come to an agreement regarding ATC personnel, the House version of the bill would include a provision rolling the FAA's contract with controllers back to 1998. That contract was widely seen as too expensive and, if Democrats take that tack on developing a reauthorization bill, they will do so without support from House Republicans. So far, their desire has been for a bipartisan bill, though there still hasn't been a final proposal introduced in the House. On the Senate side, S. 1300 was introduced May 3 and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Subsequently, on May 16 and after an amendment to strip from the bill a $25 per-flight user fee on turbine-powered aircraft failed by one vote, leaving in the new charge -- S. 1300 was forwarded to the full Senate. Regardless of what happens with the House bill -- will the FAA come to agreement with NATCA? -- once it is introduced many more hurdles will still have to be cleared. Perhaps foremost among them will be the respective House and Senate tax-writing committees, which must pass judgment on the revenue-raising provisions in both measures. Most observers, however, admit the likelihood of the House bill containing user fees is slim and none, but no one will know for sure until the measure is introduced. If it doesn't contain user fees but does contain a provision rolling NATCA's contract back to 1998 -- i.e., NATCA and the FAA couldn't come to an agreement -- House passage becomes more difficult. And don't even get up any hopes of the measure's making it past the White House without a veto. It's too soon for anyone to suggest just continuing for another year current law authorizing the FAA. Too bad ...