Three-Month Extension for FAA Authorization Is in the Works in House

The House plans to pass a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill by week's end -- a process that will begin Tuesday with a markup in the Ways and Means Committee.

The panel will vote on two draft measures, including one that would raise the tax on aviation fuel from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. The revenue raised from the tax hike could only be used to modernize the air traffic control system.

The committee also will mark up a measure 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 agency's current authorization (PL 108-176) expires at the end of September.

The House Democratic leadership has scheduled floor consideration of the underlying FAA bill (HR 2881) for Sept. 20. On Wednesday, the Rules Committee is expected to approve a rule for floor debate that would add the Ways and Means revenue provisions to that bill.

The rule also may include language that would automatically pass the three-month FAA extension when the rule itself is adopted by the House. The short-term bill would give Congress a few extra months to finish the longer-term bill, which is expected to undergo lengthy House-Senate negotiations.

In the Senate, the Finance Committee also might mark up its version of the tax provisions this week. 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 its own short-term reauthorization bill.

When it marks up the long-term FAA provisions, the Ways and Means Committee plans to approve relatively modest changes to the tax scheme that currently funds the agency.

The committee's expected action will be one more nail in the coffin of the administration's controversial plan (HR 1356) to completely overhaul the way the FAA is financed.

Citing an urgent need to more closely tie fees to actual usage of the air traffic control system, the administration's plan -- backed by the airline industry -- would eliminate the current ticket tax, raise some fuel taxes and institute a new system of fees that would be dependent on how long a flight was aloft, among other factors.

The plan is intended to capture more money from general aviation flights, which the airlines say do not pay their share of air traffic control costs compared with the resources they consume.

But general aviation interests, which stand to pay more under most user-fee proposals, pushed back against the administration, saying the current system of excise and ticket taxes works fine and that the new fee structure amounts to corporate welfare for airlines.

Outside of the debate over funding, a labor issue could derail the House bill. The White House has threatened a veto over language that would force the FAA to reopen negotiations on a contract imposed on its air traffic controllers union last summer.

The Ways and Means markup is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in 1100 Longworth.

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