Senate Advances Clean CR; Congress Clears 6-Month FAA Extension

September 29, 2015 – Updated 2:35 p.m.

Yesterday, both the continuing appropriations resolution to fund the discretionary appropriations of the federal government through December 11 and an extension of Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) taxes and expenditure authority through March 31 made significant advances in Congress – and moments ago, the FAA extension was sent to the President’s desk for signature. But additional action by both the House and Senate on the CR will be necessary by midnight tomorrow night in order to avert a partial government shutdown.

CR. Yesterday evening the Senate voted, 77-19, to invoke cloture on the legislative vehicle for the CR to December 11. (Technically, the Senate invoked cloture on the motion to agree to the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 719 with an amendment (#2689) that adds CR text, but that is a bit of a mouthful, so we’ll just say CR for short.)

Invoking cloture limits further debate to 30 hours, and since the roll call vote on invoking cloture ended at about 6:15 p.m. yesterday, if the Senate adheres to the letter of the rule, the vote on adding the CR to H.R. 719 and sending it back to the House would take place just after midnight tonight. Practically speaking, the Senate will likely move the vote by unanimous consent, either to a more reasonable hour this evening or else to the first item of business Wednesday morning.

That would give the House of Representatives the entire day on Wednesday to take up and pass the “clean” CR. The surprise resignation announcement of Speaker Boehner has taken all of the drama out of this House vote, as the conservative legislators and outside groups who were threatening to make a public display of trying to fire Boehner if he brought a clean CR up for a vote now have nothing to threaten him with.

But the sad fact is that even though a lapse-of-appropriations shutdown this week is far less likely than it seemed a week ago, the underlying politics have not changed. President Obama, backed by Senate Democrats, is still threatening to veto any full-year FY 2016 appropriations unless Congress also amends the Budget Control Act’s spending caps to allow tens of billions of dollars in additional spending, and most House Republicans are dead-set against that course of action (and those who most oppose it now feel emboldened by Boehner’s departure). So the odds of some kind of government shutdown in December are now greater than they were before.

FAA extension. Because the Senate abruptly switched gears last Thursday night and went from using a House-passed tax bill (H. J. Res. 61) as the CR vehicle to the current non-tax bill (H.R. 719), the Senate had to drop the six-month extension of Airport and Airway Trust Fund taxes and spending authority from the CR. That forced House legislators to introduce their own bill (H.R. 3614) and take it to the House floor yesterday, where it passed by voice vote.

During the brief House floor debate on the legislation, legislators agreed that a short-term extension was necessary and discussed plans to move far-reaching Federal Aviation Administration restructuring legislation through the Congress in the next six months. House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said that “We are very close to putting something together that, as I said, will transform the air traffic control system while keeping back in government the safety and regulatory oversight to this agency to make sure that we are streamlining the certification process for our aviation industry…I think, as we get through September and into October, we are going to be able to see the bill that we have put forth that is going to have, I believe, bipartisan support not only from Congress, but around the country, around Washington, D.C., and, as I said, here in the House. In talking to the Senate, I am encouraged by what they have said about what we are looking at proposing.”

But Shuster’s ranking Democrat, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), dismissed hopes that there would be bipartisan agreement within T&I on following the worldwide trend and privatizing air traffic control. DeFazio cited the summer 2011 AATF shutdown and the October 2013 government-wide shutdown and budget sequestration as reasons to insulate the FAA from the pains of the federal appropriations process but said that “The chairman’s solution is to separate only the air traffic organization from the FAA and insulate that from Congress and those sorts of problems and make it, you know, free of the procurement rules and a lot of the personnel rules. I would prefer to do that with the entire agency, because there are functions–we do have the best air traffic control system in the world. We are busier in the U.S. with more planes under instrument flight rules on a daily basis, about 20 percent more on an IFR average, than Canada, U.K., France, and Germany combined. So we know we have a safe system. We move massive amounts of air traffic. We don’t want to mess that up. And I understand, but I also don’t think we can isolate it from other decision makers in the agency and leave them subject to the vicissitudes of Congress.”

Majority Leader McConnell then “hotlined” the bill earlier today. This involves the party cloakrooms emailing all 100 Senators’ offices with the text of the bill and a proposed unanimous consent request to pass the bill. No Senators objected, and the Senate passed H.R. 3614 without amendment by unanimous consent just before 2:30 p.m. today, clearing the measure for the President’s signature.

Search Eno Transportation Weekly

Latest Issues

Happening on the Hill


Related Articles

DOT Establishes Multimodal Freight Office

December 1, 2023 - The U.S. Department of Transportation this week announced the establishment of its new Office of Multimodal...

Govt. Shutdown Now Postponed to Jan.-Feb.

November 17, 2023 - The earliest that the federal government will close for a lapse-of-appropriations shutdown is now January 19,...