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Thu, May 01, 2008

Senate Stalls On Debate Of FAA Funding Bill

Take A Whiff... You Can Smell The Political Process...

Well, that didn't take very long. The Senate's bill to reauthorize funding for the FAA stalled in debate Wednesday, after lawmakers clashed on a proposal to more tightly regulate pension funding rules for airlines.

Lawmakers in favor of the plan -- which would regulate the system by which airlines would calculate pensions, so carriers couldn't deliberately undervalue contributions -- were met with swift opposition from senators with close ties to American Airlines and Continental Airlines, reports Reuters.

Those carriers opposed a 2006 overhaul of pension rules, which allowed carriers in bankruptcy extra help in restructuring their pension plans; In 2007, American and Continental -- which avoided entering Chapter 11 -- were granted permission to restructure their plans in similar fashion, which in turn reduced the amount of funding those airlines were required to contribute. 

By Wednesday night, the proposal to end that loophole was dropped... and attention turned to a slew of unrelated riders lawmakers attempted to attach to the bill, including a boost to highway spending (keep in mind we're talking about a bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration here -- Ed.)

The partisan bickering aggravated Montana Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "We've been spending all afternoon here doing nothing," Baucus said.

As ANN reported, the Senate FAA reauthorization plan, S.1300, had been stalled in committee since last September... until a compromise between Baucus and Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) broke the logjam, and permitted the bill to reach the Senate floor Monday.

That compromise stripped a $25-per-trip-leg user fee on turbine aircraft filing IFR flight plans -- a provision favored by Rockefeller -- in exchange for higher taxes on fuel for corporate aircraft operators.

Rockefeller wasn't thrilled to see the compromise plan hit the partisan wall, either. "I've heard almost no conversation today and virtually none yesterday about the perilous condition of our aviation industry," Rockefeller said Wednesday.

The Senate adjourned until Friday... which all-but guarantees the bill won't come to a vote this week. Or, to look at the situation in a "glass-half-full" manner: if senators aren't debating the bill... they can't screw it up, either.

FMI: www.senate.gov

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