FAA Reauthorization Compromise Possibly On Tap for Next Week

Before leaving town for a delayed recess, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) this week arranged for the Senate to take up a possible compromise version of a five-year aviation policy reauthorization bill as soon as next Wednesday (May 1).

However, if House and Senate negotiators can’t reach agreement on a final bill by that point, Schumer may pull the plug on the process and extend current aviation policies, taxes, and spending authority for months or up to a year.

What happened:

As the Senate was finishing work on the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan-etc. national security supplemental spending bill, Schumer moved that the Senate take up H.R. 3935, the five-year Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that the House passed in July 2023.

Then, on April 23, Schumer filed a cloture petition to shut off debate on his motion to take up H.R. 3935 – but just before that, he filed cloture on a judicial nomination.

Since these things have to be disposed of in the order they are filed, when the Senate comes back from recess on the evening of Tuesday, April 30, the first vote of the week (the “bed check” vote) will be at 5:30 p.m. on the cloture petition on the judicial nomination. At that point, the rules provide for up to two hours of debate and then a final vote on confirming the nomination, but the Senate almost always rolls that second vote of the week to the following day.

So, the Senate would then vote to confirm Judge Alexakis sometime mid-day Wednesday, May 1, and then the next vote after the confirmation would be cloture on the motion to proceed to the FAA bill.

The question then becomes: will the compromise bill text be available by mid-day Wednesday? The Senate never passed its own FAA bill, but the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee finally approved its own bill (S. 1939) on February 8, and for the last month the staffs of the House and Senate committees have been quietly trying to work out a compromise bill that Schumer can substitute for the House-passed text of H.R. 3935, once the Senate formally takes up H.R. 3935.

The deadline for expiration of current policy, excise taxes, and Airport and Airway Trust Fund spending authority is midnight on May 8. so the staffs have been working to beat that deadline.

But May 8 is the deadline for President Biden to sign something, so the actual deadline to have a finished work product is some time before that. And that may be the morning of May 1, because many Senators have a habit of not voting in favor of cloture on a bill they have not yet seen.

So the question becomes: if the substitute version of the bill is not yet nailed down by Wednesday morning, will cloture be invoked anyway, or will Schumer have to postpone things?

With the May 8 deadline looming, Schumer could just throw in the towel and use H.R. 3935 to extend current aviation policies and finances into next year – and he may be using that as a threat, behind the scenes, to force compromises on the FAA bill.

What’s still left to compromise?

A 928-page House bill and a 1,072-page Senate bill had a surprisingly large amount either in common or else very similar that could be compromised with low-level staff work, and most of the higher-level items have been resolved through consultation with the senior members of the committees.

However, the biggest issues traditionally aren’t decided until the very last minute, and get linked together (House to Senate: we’ll give you your Priority #1 if you take our Priority #2 and #3; and then the Senate responds with a counter-offer; that kind of thing).

Among those big differences are:

  • The number and range of any additional daily takeoff and landing slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, if any.
  • Whether or not to allow commercial airline pilots to continue to fly (with additional medical inspections) past age 65, and if so, for how long.
  • What to make of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) successful amendment in committee to require that airports provide security for Members of Congress and others as they traverse through commercial airports, and who, exactly, should pay for that security.

In addition, if the FAA bill comes together, it is one of the few almost-certain vehicles heading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before the fall elections, and naturally would attract other legislation trying to ride its coattails.

Those other items could include Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee jurisdiction bills like the bipartisan data privacy bill.

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