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Senate passes five-year FAA bill

Senate passes five-year FAA bill

The Senate on Thursday passed a five-year, $105 billion bill that will reauthorize the FAA, after a bruising fight over whether to expand long-haul flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport amid scuffling over adding unrelated amendments to one of the last must-pass bills that Congress will manage before the election.

The measure, H.R. 3935, was passed 88-4. In the end, over the strenuous objections of the Maryland and Virginia delegations, the bill retains language that would expand those flights by five round trips per day. Non-germane amendments were not allowed to be offered.

Soon after, the Senate also passed a stopgap, H.R. 8289, that would run through May 17, giving the House an extra week to act. It now heads to the president’s desk.

Without the extension, current authorities would have expired at 11:59 p.m. Friday, affecting the FAA’s authority to collect and spend certain fees and tax revenues, and forcing some 3,600 employees to be furloughed. (Air traffic controllers are essential employees and would nonetheless have continued working even during a shutdown).

Slots fight petered out: On Wednesday evening a separate amendment from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would have allowed flights to be expanded as long as DOT said it wouldn’t wouldn’t clog up the airport, cause delays or are otherwise unsafe didn’t get a vote either. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had attempted to call up the amendment, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who supports the flight expansion in part because San Antonio would receive one of the “slots,” objected to Warner’s measure.

The Maryland and Virginia delegation said they would block expedited consideration of the measure unless they got a vote on their amendment. The final passage vote precluded that from happening. The senators eventually lifted their holds “out of concern for the safety of the flying public and in order to provide certainty to air traffic controllers and other essential personnel,” according to a spokesperson.

Earlier, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said the extension had one hold from someone in each party, but he assumed “there will be an effort to work that out.”

What’s next: The House is expected to take up the full FAA bill upon their return next Tuesday.

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