Senate tries to limit turbulence ahead of FAA deadline

The Senate’s push to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is coming down to the wire this week as they struggle to strike a time agreement and try to avoid a lapse of the program ahead of Friday’s deadline. 

Top senators said that while progress had been made toward extending the FAA’s authority for five years, there remain landmines that they are trying to avoid in order to complete its work by the end of the week. These landmines are in the form of nongermane amendments lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are requesting as part of a last-gasp chance to move priorities on the final must-pass proposal Congress will work on until the fall. 

“Unclear at the moment. Uncertain. There are lots of holds, put it that way,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said about the state of play. 

Leaders on both sides are trying to fend off unrelated amendments from receiving votes and getting attached to the final product, and argue that if one member receives a vote, hordes of others will object, further complicating passage of the bill. 

That is making it increasingly unlikely that any nongermane amendments make it on the bill. As of Tuesday night, there are up to a dozen holds on the package, with Thune adding that when they ultimately complete their work will depend on “people’s willingness to stay around.” 

“It’s going to take a lot of cooperation to get this complicated bill done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to prioritize reaching an outcome, so we prevent slipping past the deadline.”

Schumer on Tuesday night teed up the package for a procedural vote on Thursday. The package will need 60 votes to advance.

That move came after progress on multiple fronts for negotiators. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), the top Republican on the panel, unveiled an updated provision in the bill that fixes language related to automatic refunds for those who have flights delayed or canceled to more closely align with the new rule the Biden administration rolled out recently.

The inclusion also mirrors a proposed amendment by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). 

Cruz, who took part in Tuesday’s GOP leadership meeting, also told reporters that the final blueprint will feature a manager’s package that includes nine bipartisan amendments. All nine amendments are related to aviation or travel. 

The Texas Republican indicated that the FAA proposal should get done by the end of the week and that a short-term extension would be unnecessary. 

“I think we have a very good prospect of passing the bill by the end of the week. That’s what I’d like to see happen,” Cruz told reporters. 

Negotiators are still in search of a time agreement to speed up passage of the final version, but that is unlikely to arrive given a number of members who are adamant in search of amendment votes. 

Lawmakers had been hoping to use the bill to pass a number of unrelated items, including the Kids Online Safety Act and the House-passed tax bill. 

Hawley maintained Tuesday that he will not allow members to speed up passage without a vote on his legislation to reup a $50 billion compensation program to aid nuclear radiation victims.

“I will [object]. … If they don’t give me a vote on [the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act], there will be no time agreement from me,” Hawley said. “They won’t get consent from me.” 

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