WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, who successfully demanded that Dallas and Fort Worth move up deadlines for negotiating a solution to the Wright Amendment dispute, is nonetheless sticking with his own earlier deadline.
Hensarling said he will abide by a voluntary "legislative moratorium" on the Wright Amendment until June 1, although "no one's defined it for me."
"It is my plan to honor a June 1 date," Hensarling said in an interview, even though the Dallas City Council has set a June 14 deadline and the Fort Worth City Council an Aug. 1 deadline.
The city councils passed resolutions asking Congress not to change the law limiting flights at Dallas Love Field while they negotiate a solution.
Hensarling is one of the key players in Congress on the issue.
He and Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, last year authored a bill that would repeal the Wright Amendment. The bill now has 46 co-sponsors, including the recent addition of Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the Republican Study Group, an influential group of about 100 conservative House lawmakers.
Hensarling said he has decided that until June 1, he will be "passive" on the repeal bill and not agitate for hearings or give speeches advocating repeal.
"That doesn't mean I plan to remain silent," he added, explaining that he would continue to give interviews and talk to lawmakers and others who want his views.
The specter of three deadlines does not bother the office of Dallas Mayor Laura Miller.
"Why is everyone fixated on a date?" asked Frank Librio, Miller's chief of staff. "I wouldn't fixate on that. Mayor Miller's talking with [Fort Worth] Mayor [Mike] Moncrief, the airlines, the Texas delegation, the City Council. The process has already begun.
"The mayor is confident that her positive relationship with Mayor Moncrief will help find a solution," Librio said. Moncrief is on spring break and unavailable to comment, said Eileen Houston-Stewart, a city spokeswoman.
Hensarling said that when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Miller asked him to give the cities time to negotiate without having to worry about Congress, he thought that 30 days was enough.
Convinced that the cities needed more time, he settled on June 1, only to have both cities tout Oct. 1 as the date.
After he and Johnson refused to go along, arguing that that would effectively kill the bill for this session of Congress, the cities moved the date up.
Hensarling's stance effectively puts more pressure on the cities to act, although, at the moment, the issue is stalled in the House and Senate.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, has vowed to do "whatever it takes" to defend the controversial 1979 law designed to protect Dallas/Fort Worth Airport by restricting nonstop service from Love Field to points within Texas and eight nearby states.
Critics say the law limits competition and keeps airfares high in the North Texas market. Proponents say the Wright Amendment helped build D/FW into an economic powerhouse and should not be reneged on.
"My position is repeal, yesterday," Hensarling said. But having said that, he added: "I'd love for us in North Texas to come together. I'm encouraged by the two cities coming together. These are all encouraging things."
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