Senate Returns From Recess, Still Doesn’t Bring Up FAA Bill

August 17, 2018

The U.S. Senate returned to Washington this week after a nominal one-week recess that was actually 14 days long and conducted a workweek that lasted just over 24 hours.

The Senate convened for the week at noon on Wednesday and finished its last roll call vote of the week just before 3 p.m. on Thursday. The only business conducted was confirmation of two more federal appellate judges.

However, the Senate did formally proceed to next week’s order of business, the combination of the annual Defense appropriations bill and the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019.

The appropriations measure will be the pending business when the Senate comes back to town on Monday and is expected to take the entire week, which means that the earliest that the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill (S. 1405) could come to the Senate floor would be the following week (the week of August 27) – if an agreement on limiting amendments can be reached by that time.

Amendments causing the holdup reportedly include an “F4A” amendment by Democrats to remove the language adopted by voice vote in committee markup to partially preempt California’s meal and rest break laws for intrastate truck and bus drivers. A more robust version of the provision is included in the House bill and the House has also passed similar language as an amendment to the annual DOT appropriations bill for several years running, only to see it dropped at the end of House-Senate conference negotiations.

And since the FAA bill is probably the only bill that has a chance of coming up before the elections that can address federal tax and revenue issues (since the House-originated version of the FAA bill extends Airport and Airway Trust Find taxes, it is a “revenue bill” under the Constitution), there is also the chance that someone will try to make a point on tax-related issues – or on the “Trump tariffs” – on the FAA bill before the elections.

Whether or not the Senate is able to get the FAA bill to the floor during the week of August 27, time is rapidly running out for the concept of getting a final House-Senate compromise bill negotiated, passed once again, and signed by the President by the time the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (and its taxes) expires on September 30.

Another short-term extension is therefore likely; the only questions are how long it will last, and that depends on the other question (whether or not the extension is carried in the stopgap continuing appropriations resolution or is a free-standing bill). If the extension is carried in the CR, it will probably last as long as the CR lasts; if the extension is its own bill it will probably run through December 31.

And since the House won’t be in session the week of September 17 because of the Jewish holidays, that means that all the decisions on CRs and FAA extensions need to be made the previous week, less than a month from now.

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