Legislative Update 9-2-15

Brothers and Sisters,
It has been a while since I sent out a legislative update, so I wanted to let everyone know what was going on in D.C. and how the coming month COULD be one of the most important legislative months that NATCA has ever seen!
Congress has been on recess (“district work period” OR as some mistakenly refer to it as “vacation”) for the past month or so. Congress returns to D.C. on Tuesday September 8, 2015 (the day after Labor Day). If we consider that the issues that they need to resolve for NATCA and the federal workforce only, they are going to have a VERY FULL plate, but they have a number of other issues to resolve as well.
First, let’s discuss what is on the table for NATCA and federal
employees…..
1.) FAA Reauthorization: FAA Reauthorization (or the “FAA Bill”) is a bill that quite simply gives the FAA authorization to exist and establishes the government’s right to collect taxes through aviation programs. Since Congress isn’t going to allow the FAA to stop existing, two things have to happen:
a.) A new “authorization” has to pass before September 30, 2015.
OR
b.) An “extension” of the current authorization has to pass before
September 30, 2015 (to keep the FAA in existence) so they can
pass the full authorization. Now, FAA Reauthorization is going to be the “parent vehicle” (or “legislative vehicle”) for FAA reform. We don’t know what type of FAA Reform congress plans to introduce, but because it is SO significant, there is
a very good chance that we will see an extension to the current FAA Re-authorization. This “extension” could last anywhere from three to six months.
2.) Government Shutdown/Appropriations Passage: Every single year, the federal government needs to be funded. The “funding year” goes from October 1 until September 30 (the following year). If the government is not funded, then the government “shuts down”. Essential employees continue to work without getting paid. Non-essential employees are sent home on October 1 (there are some exceptions to this and PLEASE allow the FAA to determine whether or not you are
essential or non-essential; they have an obligation to inform you; this is NOT up for your interpretation). If the government shutdown went on for four weeks or more, you would not receive a paycheck for your work (essential employees) until the government shutdown was resolved. If you are non-essential, there is no guarantee of back pay for the time you were off of work. The House of Representatives has passed their version
of the Appropriations Bill to fund the FAA (this is the “THUD
Appropriations Bill”) BUT the Senate has not. Remember, ANY bill has to pass the House and the Senate BEFORE it is sent to the President’s desk for his signature.
3.) Sequestration: Sequestration is the forced, across the board cuts to domestic and defense programs. As many have called this “the meat cleaver approach to budget cuts” rather than the more precise cutting of programs here and there where there may be excess funds. Sequestration is COMPLETELY different and apart from the government shutdown that I mentioned above. Sequestration IS in place for the next eight to ten
years, the “government shutdown” is something that has to be addressed every year. IF the government gets funded, sequestration STILL kicks in. If the government DOESN’T get funded…..sequestration STILL kicks in. Sequestration is set to begin on October 1, 2015. NOW…..here is where things get a little complicated……. NEITHER the Republicans NOR the Democrats want sequestration. The Democrats have essentially said…..let’s get a group of lawmakers together
from both parties and find a resolution to make sequestration go away. The Republicans agree with this approach, but they also understand that there is not a lot of time before September 30 to resolve their differences. So the Republicans in the House passed Appropriations Bills that address sequestration cuts (the Republican’s funding packages “absorb” or “address” sequestration), but the Democrats revert back to: “let’s do away with sequestration all together”. So the President has come out and said that he will veto any spending (Appropriations Bill) bill that has reduced funding
levels (taking into account for sequestration). If the House version of the THUD Appropriations bill passed the House and
Senate tomorrow, there would not be sequestration for 2016, but the Senate has refused to address any of the House’s Appropriations Bills because of the President’s threat to veto the bills if they pass (“Why would we pass something if the President is just going to veto it and throw the bill back to
us?”) is the Senate’s stance/issue. So it is unlikely that sequestration will get fixed before October 1, 2015, but
weirder things have happened on Capitol Hill.
As I said at the beginning, Congress has a number of other issues that will have to be addressed when they return (and they only have 15 legislative days to complete their responsibilities), such as:
a.) A controversial Confederate flag amendment
b.) Renewal of the Export-Import Bank
c.) Referendum on the “Iran Deal”
d.) Pope Francis will address Congress on September 24th
e.) Legislation to reconcile the 2016 Defense Authorization
f.) Legislation to defund Planned Parenthood
g.) Debate over the “Highway Bill”
h.) Debate over lifting the debt ceiling
Sooo…..September is going to be VERY BUSY legislatively and there is a lot riding on the votes and decisions lawmakers in Washington will be making on behalf of our families and on our behalf. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions when you aren’t 100% sure what is going on.
Below are a few articles that address some of the hurdles that we will be
facing when Congress returns.
Aviation funding bill up in the air
By Keith Laing
08/05/15
The unfinished debate over highway funding in Congress is likely to ground
hopes for passing a new funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA).
The FAA bill, which includes funding for air traffic controllers, is scheduled
to expire Sept. 30. But Congress is expected to return its focus on highways
upon returning to Washington next month, because lawmakers punted
debate on a long-term surface transportation-funding bill into October before
leaving for their August recess.
Air travel advocates are worried that the twin cliffs will mean aviation will
get the short end of the stick when lawmakers return to Washington.
“It seems things are trending in that direction,” Erik Hansen, U.S. Travel
Association senior director of domestic policy, told The Hill on Tuesday,
when asked if the prolonged highway funding debate means the FAA is
heading for a short-term extension.
“The surface bill seems to be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room and
that could mean more delays for aviation,” Hansen continued. “There’s a
packed floor schedule [in the fall], and getting a bill through committees and
both chambers and through a conference could be difficult.”
The FAA funding deadline has flown under the radar for most of the year as
lawmakers have focused on the highway funding measure, which initially
had a May 31 deadline. The new cutoff point, established by a patch passed
by Congress last week, is Oct. 29. Lawmakers have pledged to dive back
into the highway funding debate in September.
Already, there are rumors that a House markup scheduled to consider the
FAA bill in September will be replaced with a hearing on a multiyear
highway bill.
Complicating matters further is a push from House Republicans to privatize
some functions of air traffic control. The effort has riled unions.
Hansen said Tuesday that the privatization push will be difficult lift for GOP
leaders during a monthlong sprint that will ensue after Congress returns to
Washington on Sept. 8.
“We already heard comments from [House Transportation Committee]
Ranking Member [Peter] DeFazio [D-Ore.] that there is going to have to be
some type of extension,” he said. “The question is, how long?”
The FAA has been at the center of budget battles in Washington before. The
agency’s last funding measure, in 2012, was passed following a string of
more than 20 temporary extensions that resulted in a partial shutdown of the
agency in 2011.
The FAA’s funding was also cut in the 2013 sequester, resulting in air traffic
controller furloughs and flight delays, before Congress passed a quick fix to
restore the spending.
Aviation industry groups in Washington are focused now on avoiding those
kinds of standoffs, even if they have to accept at least one more temporary
extension while Congress finishes off the highway bill.
“Both the House and Senate understand how critical aviation is to the
economy and jobs, and we are committed to working collaboratively with
Congress to deliver an FAA bill that our industry needs and our customers
deserve,” the group that lobbies for airlines, Airlines for America, said in a
statement that was provided to The Hill.
The American Association of Airport Executives said it is important for
Congress to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of repeated aviation funding
extensions, however.
“With the memory of 23 short-term extensions during the last
reauthorization cycle still fresh in mind, it’s clear that Congress needs to
move swiftly to provide long-term certainty and avoid another series of
temporary patches that result in disruptions to the programs of the FAA,
missed construction seasons in parts of the country, and lost jobs,” the group
said in a statement.
U.S. Travel’s Hansen said the aviation industry has an advantage because it
does not have the kind of funding crunch that has marked the highway
debate, as lawmakers have tried fervently to avoid raising gas taxes.
“The difficulty on the surface side is that you have to come up with pay-fors
each time,” he said. “You don’t have that on the aviation side.”
But Hansen said the privatization effort is a sticky-enough issue that it could
result in the same type of gridlock that has marked the highway funding
debate.
“There’s a packed agenda, a packed floor and building consensus takes time,
especially on major issues like air traffic control reform,” he said.
McConnell eyes fall talks to avert shutdown
By Alexander Bolton
08/04/15
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he would begin negotiations
with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown in September.
The majority leader vowed there would not be another shutdown on his
watch — but it could be difficult to avoid, given the long list of thorny
issues he will have to tackle this fall.
Funding for the government is set to run out at the end of September, and
Democrats and the White House want to increase defense and nondefense
spending.
Some Republicans are also demanding new defense spending, and many
GOP lawmakers and Republicans running for president want to defund
Planned Parenthood. The debt ceiling is also going to have to be lifted later
this year.
As usual, McConnell has been playing his cards close to the vest. But his
main goal is to minimize drama and maintain the Senate Republican
majority in 2016. Messy fiscal fights could increase the chance Democrats
win back the upper chamber.
The Kentucky Republican hasn’t told colleagues of his endgame plans, but
they suspect he is angling for a yearlong spending measure that would allow
him to sidestep a fight over busting the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control
Act.
“Whatever minimizes the drama, because Mitch is not a big fan of drama,”
said a Republican senator who requested anonymity.
A short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open through the
end of the year is expected in September.
There are few legislative days next month because of the Jewish holidays, a
visit from the pope and a congressional recess that lasts until Sept. 8.
The budget endgame is complicated by a clamor from the GOP base in
recent days to defund Planned Parenthood following the release of a series
of covert videos that show officials at the organization discussing the cost of
fetal tissue. Presidential politics will be a major problem for McConnell this
fall, as the candidates will be wooing the base to win the GOP nomination.
Conservatives will insist on adding policy riders to defund the organization,
while Senate Democrats will filibuster any language they view as infringing
on women’s healthcare.
McConnell and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will also have to figure out
a way to extend the Highway Trust Fund and raise the debt limit.
Aides say they would prefer to deal with those matters separately from the
spending fight, believing President Obama has more leverage when big
issues get balled up into one set of high-profile talks.
McConnell said Tuesday that budget talks would begin “at some point” in
the fall.
“Let me say it again, no more government shutdowns,” he told reporters.
“We have divided government. The different parties control the Congress,
control the White House, and at some point we’ll negotiate the way
forward,” he added.
But talking with Democrats is unlikely to yield an agreement McConnell can
tout to his own party. Democrats are insisting that any increase in defense
spending be matched dollar for dollar with an increase for nondefense
programs.
That would undermine what McConnell has consistently promoted as one of
the GOP’s greatest policy accomplishments in the past five years: Cutting
spending through the Budget Control Act.
“McConnell is very leery of reopening a debate over budget levels that we
negotiated with Democrats and led to the first real cut in government
spending since the 1950s. That’s something he negotiated and he’s proud of
and led to a very good result,” said a Senate GOP aide.
Yet McConnell is under pressure from Republican colleagues to begin talks
with Democrats in a bid to avoid a continuing resolution that would wipe out
the Appropriations Committee’s work this year on spending bills.
Until this week, he has resisted those calls.
“A few of us have suggested that we should start talks and get something
going with Democrats, but Mitch has been very consistent. He’s said we
have to focus on getting through this work period,” said another Republican
senator who spoke on background.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Appropriations Committee,
said Tuesday she wants McConnell to begin budget talks, but added that
Obama must also show leadership on the looming impasse.
Any deal that raised defense and nondefense accounts simultaneously,
however, would prompt a backlash from conservatives — something
McConnell wants to avoid heading into next year’s election.
“I don’t know McConnell can do that without guys raising hell on our side,”
said another Senate Republican aide.
A year-end proposal busting the budget caps would face staunch opposition
in the House, where it would have to rely on Democratic votes to pass.
“Boehner is in a tougher spot because he has a larger group of guys who will
say, ‘Hell no, we’ll take a government shutdown,’” the aide added. “He has
150 guys who don’t want to capitulate to the president.”
By stringing out budget talks until late-December, McConnell can offer a
yearlong continuing resolution as a last-minute solution to avoid a
government shutdown, in hopes that colleagues will seize it as the only
viable option, Senate Republican and Democratic sources say.
That would allow him to keep the spending caps in place and avoid a fight
with Republicans who want to increase the defense numbers, such as Sens.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and avoid a standoff
with Obama over raising only the defense accounts.
Democratic leaders on Tuesday declined to say whether they would oppose a
clean one-year continuing resolution.
“Let’s see what they’re trying to do. There’s no such thing as a clean
[continuing resolution] in the minds of the Republicans. They have to stick
something on it, which they will do,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry
Reid (Nev.).
A Senate Democratic leadership aide predicted that McConnell would not be
able to pass a clean stopgap without riders defunding Planned Parenthood or
the Environmental Protection Agency.
“With any continuing resolution, there’s going to be incredible pressure to
put riders on it,” acknowledged a conservative Senate aide.
A clean yearlong stopgap would give McConnell the best opportunity to
avoid a shutdown fight with Obama, but persuading his GOP colleagues to
drop the riders may take several rounds of failed votes, aides said.
When Congress returns from vacation,
budget fight looms
By Richard Cowan
Aug 27, 2015
The U.S. Congress will soon embark on a high-stakes budget negotiation
with President Barack Obama that, if productive, could give Republicans the
increased military spending they want and Democrats the increased domestic
spending they seek.
Alternatively, the federal government could shut down.
Scenarios in between these extremes are also possible, but congressional
aides said outcomes were hard to predict since little behind-the-scenes
progress was made on thorny issues during Congress’s five-week summer
recess. It ends Sept. 8.
Left unresolved, fiscal disputes could push lawmakers to the brink of
shutdown by Oct. 1, or later in the year, possibly rattling markets already
shaken by China.
Amid efforts to avoid a tax-and-spending crash, Congress will meet on Sept.
24 for a speech from Pope Francis. Leaders hope to avoid discord around
then.
It is possible, said one Senate Democratic aide, that a package could emerge
late in the year funding federal agencies through September 2016, raising the
Treasury Department’s borrowing authority to avoid a cataclysmic default
and extending temporary tax breaks. All are pressing issues.
The “train wreck” would come if Congress, up against a Thanksgiving
holiday deadline in November or a Christmas deadline in December, failed
to pass such a catch-all package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives
Speaker John Boehner will be key players, as always. They face a tough job
balancing the demands of their Republican majorities in both chambers with
crafting legislation that Obama, a Democrat, will accept.
Both McConnell and Boehner have long believed government shutdowns
hurt their party’s brand, but they have to deal with a strong and vocal faction
of Tea Party conservatives that has shown little hesitation about playing the
shutdown card.
TRUMP FACTOR
Further complicating the leaders’ work will be demands from the huge cast
of Republican presidential candidates, some of whom sit in the Senate. On
Wednesday for example, Donald Trump said on Bloomberg TV that it
would be “worth the fight” to resist raising the limit on government
borrowing.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz, also a candidate, has led a charge to kill
federal funding for Planned Parenthood after secretly taped videos showed
technicians for the women’s health organization gathering fetal tissue from
abortions.
Cruz and other conservatives have tried to use must-pass spending bills, like
the one coming due Oct. 1, as vehicles to kill Obama’s healthcare law and
immigration policies. The strategy has failed but has forced temporary
agency shutdowns.
Another problem just around the corner is strict, government-wide spending
caps that many in Washington see as too harsh, especially given the
improving U.S. economy.
Republicans argue these caps hurt national security by under-funding the
Pentagon and will likely push to ease spending limits for the fiscal year and
increase military spending to more than $600 billion, up from the current
$523 billion.
“I don’t feel like everyone is resigned to busting the budget caps,” said a
Senate Republican aide. “Therein lies the real battle and I am not really sure
what the final answer is.”
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)