Ways and Means Votes to Retain Current Aviation Financing System

Bill scheduled for floor vote on Thursday

The House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation Tuesday that rejects the Bush administration's call for a sweeping overhaul of the way the nation's aviation system is financed.

The measure (HR 3539), approved by voice vote, would retain the current financing system and raise aviation fuel taxes from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. The new revenue would be dedicated to air traffic control modernization.

The measure is expected to be added to a larger reauthorization bill covering the Federal Aviation Administration (HR 2881) through fiscal 2011. That bill is scheduled for floor consideration Thursday. The Rules Committee will consider the FAA bill Wednesday.

John L. Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the panel's leadership scheduled a meeting Tuesday evening to hash out some remaining issues before the Rules markup, including how to tighten rules for aircraft repair stations and whether to allow certain airport funds to be spent on bicycle racks and bicycle paths.

Mike Thompson, D-Calif., is working to get more protections for passengers stranded aboard airplanes, such as a guarantee of clean water. He said the Transportation and Infrastructure panel's leaders have agreed to entertain some of the changes he is seeking, although he refused to elaborate.

"That's embargoed until Wednesday," he said.

The White House had proposed replacing the current system of fuel and ticket taxes with new fees that would be more closely tied with actual usage of the air traffic control system, such as per-flight charges based on distance traveled. The administration said the shift was necessary to fund system upgrades to handle increasing volumes of air traffic.

Ways and Means ranking Republican Jim McCrery of Louisiana said he hoped there would be an opportunity to consider more changes to the financing system during conference with the Senate.

"It's not the bill I would have written had we had more time to get into details and craft a more cost-based reform," he said. "But by doing this today we're essentially buying this committee some more time."

Ways and Means also approved a bill (HR 3540) by voice vote that would extend the FAA's authorization through Dec. 31, allowing the agency to collect, at current rates, the excise taxes that fund most of its budget. The current authorization (PL 108-176) expires Sept. 30, and Congress must act before then to keep funds flowing into the system.

The rule for floor consideration of the broader FAA bill may contain language that would automatically pass the extension when the rule is adopted.

The Senate Finance Committee also might mark up its version of the tax provisions this week, possibly Thursday. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved its underlying FAA bill (S 1300) on May 16.

It is unclear when the Senate might act on a short-term reauthorization.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday in H-313 Capitol.

Source: CQ Today Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill. ©2007 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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