WASHINGTON — The aviation community was prepared to see House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica, R. Fla., introduce a new Federal Aviation Administration extension bill Friday, one expected to pass both houses of Congress without a battle this week. But it didn’t happen.
While industry groups had a draft of the text of the bill and fact sheets during the morning, a spokesman for Mica said mid-afternoon: “No bill was introduced. Some discussions are ongoing.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor R-Va., said he “does still expect an extension on the floor next week.”
It was not clear why the bill’s introduction was postponed. Some sources speculated it might be because Mica proposed a cut in the FAA’s budget, including for the airport improvement program, after President Obama called for an AIP increase Thursday night. The AIP funds ramp, runway, and safety improvement projects.
The current temporary bill expires on Sept. 16. The draft bill would allow the agency to keep spending almost at its current levels and continue collecting passenger ticket taxes through Dec. 31.
Mica also included back pay for federal workers who were furloughed for two weeks in August when lawmakers failed to extend the agency’s funding before the last extension expired.
The draft of this extension, unlike the last one, does not appear to contain policy changes that would anger Senate Democrats and risk another partial shutdown of the FAA. It leaves out limits on aviation worker union organizing, which had divided Republicans and Democrats. It also includes cuts to aid for rural airports, which Senate Democrats had accepted to end the FAA shutdown.
An industry source said senators who had been briefed on the bill earlier, but had not seen the text, did not think it would run into the same partisan bickering and temporary stalemate as the last extension.
However, the draft angered airport officials with a proposed a 5% cut in the FAA’s budget, including the AIP.
Greg Principato, president of the Airports Council International-North America, said airport executives are “gravely concerned” about cuts to a program that has not had an increase since 2006. “It simply doesn’t make any sense at a time when both parties are focused on creating jobs to cut a program like AIP that is a proven jobs creator in large and small communities across the country,” he said.
Another lobbyist said some House Democrats are unhappy as well, after Obama asked for a $2 billion AIP increase Thursday night. Republicans said the cut is consistent with this summer’s deficit reduction agreement and the House appropriators’ funding levels, but it may have destabilized the situation.
It wasn’t clear Friday if other issues might be involved. There was a public-opinion backlash from the FAA shutdown and leaders of both parties were widely believed not to want another fight.