House sends FAA reauthorization to Biden

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for five years, sending the legislation to President Biden’s desk ahead of Friday’s deadline.

The measure cleared the chamber in a 387-26 vote, days after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill, 88-4.

Passage of the legislation marks the end of Congress’s long-winded road to reauthorizing the FAA, which required four short-term extensions and featured a bitter battle over adding round-trip flights at Washington’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) — slots that were ultimately included in the final legislation.

With FAA reauthorization officially in the rearview mirror, Congress has no more must-pass priorities on its legislative to-do list until the fall — when government funding for fiscal year 2025 is due — a relief for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who found himself in hot water with his right-flank throughout various policy fights of the past six months.

In the interim, House Republicans are expected to plow ahead with messaging bills on a variety of topics — immigration and the Israel-Hamas war, for example — as lawmakers prepare for the November elections.

Consideration of the FAA bill experienced far less turbulence in the House than it did in the Senate, where lawmakers unsuccessfully fought tooth-and-nail to secure amendment votes on their unrelated pet priorities. Leadership declined to schedule votes on any amendments to avoid any additions that could sink the legislation.

There was also the long-running feud over a provision that would add more flights at DCA, a regional debate that pitted lawmakers who represent areas close to D.C. — concerned about delays and safety after a near-miss at the airport last month — against those who hail from districts farther away.

The compromise FAA bill, which negotiators released late last month, added five round-trip flights at DCA. In July, the House voted down an amendment that would have added seven round-trip flights at DCA in a 229-205 vote.

Senators from Maryland and Virginia sought an amendment vote that would strip the additional slots from the bill, which Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, declined to stage over concerns that the package would “unravel” if the language was rescinded.

Those four D.C.-area senators — Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) — were the only ones to vote against the bill.

House members representing Virginia similarly voted against the legislation. In a joint statement on Tuesday, Democrats representing the Old Dominion, joined by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), issued a statement slamming the additional slots.

“The passage of a provision to increase congestion and delays at DCA is Congress at its worst,” the group wrote.

“The House rejected this measure with a bipartisan vote, and its authors were so sure they would lose a floor vote in the Senate that they barred all amendments, including a proposal to ensure the added flights were not dangerous,” they continued. “In a shameful moment for the Senate, the majority will of both chambers was overruled in a backroom deal that put special interests above the safety and convenience of millions of Americans.”

DCA has traditionally focused on short-haul flights under 1,250 miles, with some exceptions, while longer flights more frequently take off from Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The debate over DCA slots drew significant attention from airlines. United Airlines, which has a hub at Dulles, lobbied against adding flights to DCA.

In addition to the additional slots at DCA, the FAA reauthorization bill includes a new requirement for the agency to hire and train up to 3,000 new air traffic controllers, a provision that increases the length of cockpit voice recordings from two to 25 hours, and increases the time frame for individuals to utilize travel credits to at least five years.

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