Rockefeller Calls on FAA Negotiators to Pass Clean Extension and Work Toward Passage of Comprehensive Reauthorization

July 21, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a statement on the Senate floor today, Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV called on his colleagues to pass a clean FAA bill extension to keep America’s aviation system in operation until Congress can negotiate a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill. 

Rockefeller’s statement follows:

Yesterday, at the direction of their Leadership, the House passed an FAA extension that, unlike the twenty previous FAA extensions, included changes to FAA policy that have not been agreed to in both chambers.  This move will shut down the FAA beginning tomorrow at midnight if we do not reach agreement on a sensible path forward to pass a clean FAA extension.  The consequences of an FAA shutdown will be severe. 

This is not about me, or the content of the extraneous provisions in the House bill.  This is about being responsible and doing the necessary work to ensure our aviation system continues to function at its highest level while Congress completes its business. 

Over the past four years we have been able to work together to do the right thing each time the FAA’s authorities were about to expire.  Congress has consistently acted to pass extensions to make certain the nation’s air transportation system continues to operate safely.  In only one case were policy changes made during consideration of an FAA extension.  Last year, airline safety measures were included because both the House and Senate negotiators agreed to them, and the extension passed unanimously in both chambers. 

It is very unfortunate that the House is taking a rash approach to pass a bill when we have made so much progress in negotiating a complete FAA reauthorization package. 

From the time the House passed the FAA reauthorization, we have had more than three months of productive negotiations where staff engaged in more than 30 meetings and spent hundreds of hours developing this legislation. 

Over this period, we have worked the entire number of items to be resolved down from 281 separate issues to approximately ten provisions of consequence. 

House and Senate negotiators have compiled more than 300 pages of text.  All of the components of this legislation represent needed aviation policy changes that will improve the country’s airspace system. 

I have been able to negotiate with the House Science Committee and the House Homeland Committee to develop workable agreements on all of our policy differences.  

The main items that need to be finalized are difficult, partisan provisions that fall within the jurisdiction of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and its Chairman, John Mica.

This House bill was developed in a partisan manner.  It had a number of problematic provisions added during floor consideration.  Central to these was a decision to include language that would reverse a National Mediation Board (NMB) decision from the previous year.  The NMB provision was so tainted it passed by just seven votes in the House.  Consideration of the final FAA package passed in the House by a party line vote of 223-to-196. 

Ultimately, the House FAA reauthorization bill garnered the narrowest vote margin for a House FAA reauthorization bill in almost 30 years.  The White House has threatened to veto any final FAA package that includes the House’s NMB language. 

The House’s addition of policy riders to the extension that are being considered as part of the FAA reauthorization discussions represent an abandonment of the good faith negotiations we have been engaged in for the last three months. 

The House acted without consulting the Senate on this FAA extension.   From their actions and public statements, it is clear that this effort is designed to force the hand of Congress on the NMB provision that President Obama has singled out as a reason to veto the legislation.

The House claims that negotiations on the FAA bill have stalled over the NMB issue, but they have simply not done their work.  It has been over 100 days since the House passed their FAA bill, and they have never even appointed conferees.  The Senate is ready to break this deadlock, but we have not been able to engage in a formal process.  The Senate includes all of its conferees in negotiations and works through each provision to reach bipartisan agreement.

The House has only had Chairman Mica, and now the House leadership, calling the shots on each negotiated item.  If the House really wants to move forward it is time they appoint conferees, and we will be able to determine where things stand on what remains of the FAA reauthorization bill.  But, the Senate cannot accept the House sending over the items that remain to be negotiated in a piecemeal fashion as part of this FAA extension, or future extensions.  The American people expect Congress to work together to reach agreement—and I believe we can do this, but it is going to take some more time.  If the House continues in its attempt to hold the Senate hostage on the FAA extension it will result in a partial shutdown of the FAA. 

A majority of the Senate is more than willing to pass a clean FAA extension of any length.  This week, I introduced S. 1387 with Senator Hutchison and Baucus to do just that.  Our bill would give the FAA the necessary funding and authority to keep the agency functioning into September.  I have also indicated to the House, on at least four occasions, that I am willing to drop all of the remaining controversial items that are not included in both bills in order to get us close to a deal.  That offer has consistently been rejected. 

Despite the House’s lack of appointing conferees on the FAA bill and willingness to threaten the agency with problematic extensions, I remain committed to completing the FAA Reauthorization process.  After spending four years trying to complete this bill, nobody wants a resolution more than I do.  I believe that we can finish a comprehensive FAA reauthorization by August if the House will come back to the negotiating table in good faith.  I am willing to sit down at the table anytime to move the larger FAA package forward, or to develop an FAA extension that can pass Congress.

We will try to move a clean FAA extension through the Senate.  I ask that the other Members support this effort and allow us to complete the FAA reauthorization bill.  

An expiration of the FAA will shut down any activities funded out of FAA’s capital accounts, including the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), Facilities and Equipment (F&E), and Research, Engineering, and Development (RE&D).  This includes a complete halt to the AIP, which provides $3.5 billion for infrastructure projects at airport annually, and is estimated to support more than 150,000 jobs each year.  Non-essential employees will be furloughed—approximately 4,000 FAA employees.

If the FAA’s authorities do expire the agency estimates that it could only operate certain air traffic support services through about mid-August 2011.  This could mean services to smaller areas would need to draw down in the near term so that FAA can focus on primary traffic.  A shutdown quickly starts to have safety implications too.  Safety projects at airports, placing a hold on testing and implementation of NextGen efforts, and fewer personnel to dispatch to potential problem areas are real concerns.