Nominations Preempt FAA Bill Before Labor Day

August 24, 2018

Hopes that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (H.R. 3/S. 1405) might finally come to the Senate floor before the end of August took a nose dive earlier this week when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed what may be a record number of cloture petitions on Trump Administration nominees.

On August 22, McConnell filed 17 cloture petitions on nominees (12 for federal district court judgeships and 5 for other positions, including 2 for the same man – once to be a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and a separate vote on naming him vice chairman of the Board). (The full list is on page 2 of the Senate Executive Calendar).

Under a unanimous consent agreement reached yesterday, the first of those cloture votes (on an assistant secretary of HHS) will occur at 5:30 p.m. on Monday August 27. And from then on, there will be a long string of the following:

  • Roll call vote on invoking cloture on nominee
  • Wait up to 30 hours during which no other business can be conducted except by unanimous consent
  • Roll call vote on confirming nominee, followed immediately by…
  • Roll call vote on invoking cloture on the next nominee.

If Senate Democrats (or any Senate Republican with an axe to grind, for that matter) want to drag things out, 30 hours of post-cloture debate per nominee times 17 cloture petitions equals 510 hours.

In reality, there almost certainly won’t be anywhere near 34 roll call votes, or 510 hours of debate. McConnell is putting the controversial nominees first (the HHS nominee is opposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in protest of something else that HHS is already doing, the Fed nominee is next, and then comes an Assistant Attorney General nominee who previously served as Attorney General Sessions’ chief of staff in 2017, which draws all manner of investigatory flak).

The judgeships, which are not particularly controversial, come after that. Democrats have been dragging out almost all Trump judicial nominees to the maximum extent possible this year (because Gorsuch, they usually say), but McConnell is hoping to dangle an extended Labor Day weekend before Senators as a prize if they can expedite most of next week’s nominations by unanimous consent. (No one, in or out of Washington, wants to be stuck at work on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and in the Senate, Thursday is the new Friday, so a lot of Senators would really like to be heading back out of town by next Wednesday afternoon if possible.)

But even a few cloture votes and subsequent debate time next week would leave no time to debate the FAA bill, which now has to wait until after Labor Day to come to the Senate floor. This also increases the likelihood that the Airport and Airway Trust Fund will have to have a sixth short-term extension enacted into law prior to October 1 in order to keep trust fund payments coming (and keep the excise taxes going in). This will make three full years during which federal aviation policy has been governed by short-term extensions of one form or another (see list below), though the July 2016 legislation had enough policy changes in it that it was almost a full bill.

Short-Term Extensions of the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012”
Bill Passed Passed Signed Public
Congr. Number Time Period Covered Duration House Senate Into Law Law #
1 114th HR 3614 10/1/2015 – 3/31/2016 6 months 9/29/15 9/29/15 9/30/15 114-55
2 114th HR 4721 4/1/2016 – 7/15/2016 3.5 months 3/21/16 3/17/16 3/30/16 114-141
3 114th HR 636 7/16/16 – 9/30/2017 14.5 months 7/11/16 7/13/16 7/15/16 114-190
4 115th HR 3823 10/1/2017 – 3/31/2018 6 months 9/28/17 9/28/17 9/29/17 115-63
5 115th HR 1625 4/1/2018 – 9/30/18 6 months 3/22/18 3/23/18 3/23/18 115-141


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