FAA bill overcomes first Senate hurdle ahead of May 10 deadline

The Senate on Wednesday took the first step toward passing a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the final must-pass piece of legislation until the fall.

Senators voted 89 to 10 to overcome the first procedural hurdle and move toward consideration of the package ahead of the May 10 deadline.

“Both parties have an incentive to work together to get FAA done as quickly and as smoothly as we can, to keep our skies safe and our federal employees well taken care of,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor earlier in the day.

“Getting FAA reauthorization done will provide for more air traffic controllers, for more safety inspectors at manufacturing plants, and better customer service standards, all of which are so badly needed,” he continued. “I hope the Senate can get this important piece of legislation done with as much bipartisan goodwill as possible.”

But lawmakers acknowledge it could be a bumpy ride.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters that Republicans have called for upwards of 20 amendment votes, both related and unrelated to the bill at hand. 

Headlining the unrelated category is an amendment from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who said he will not agree to speed up passage without an amendment vote to extend federal benefits for victims of nuclear radiation. A stand-alone bill to do so passed the Senate in early March but has not been taken up by the House.

“Obviously, we have people on both sides that want amendment votes,” Thune said, noting that the bill went through regular order and already includes a large number of amendments offered by those on and off the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Outside of Hawley’s push, only a few other bills unrelated to the FAA may receive consideration.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of amendments,” one Senate Republican said. 

The bill is considered the last must-pass piece of legislation that lawmakers will consider until September, meaning it could be their last chance to get a priority into law for many months. 

One way to advance those priorities could be a manager’s package that would attach items that have wide support across the chamber. 

Among those is the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill backed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), which Schumer also supports.

The bill would create new guidelines for tech giants to help protect children from being harmed by content that could be damaging and put in place new parental controls on social media apps. The bill has more than 60 co-sponsors, putting it in a prime spot for potential inclusion.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the top Senate GOP member on the Commerce Committee, said Wednesday that a manager’s amendment is very much in consideration.

Cruz added that the process looks “unclear,” though he is pushing for a “robust” amendment discourse. 

One hot-button amendment likely to receive a vote would strip out language in the bill adding five slots, or 10 flights, at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

The effort to remove the provision is being led by senators from the greater District of Columbia area — Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) — who have argued the airport can’t handle any more traffic.

“We understand the desire of senators to shorten their commutes home, but this proposal would benefit few while impacting many, first and foremost in safety but also in delays and in reducing the economic competitiveness of smaller destinations within the perimeter,” they wrote to their Senate colleagues recently.

“The senators representing the region and the people who most use this airport stand uniform against a provision negotiated without us that will guarantee more unacceptable delay and compromise passenger safety.”

DCA is designed to largely handle short-haul flights, with Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport handling the vast majority of longer flights. However, lawmakers from outside the 1,250 mile perimeter of flights in and out of DCA have clamored for more flights into the airport closest to Capitol Hill.

Delta Air Lines has been a top supporter of the addition of flights, while United Airlines has lobbied heavily against it. IAD is a United hub. 

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