Mr. WEBSTER. Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of debate only, I yield the customary 30 minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings) pending which I yield myself such time as I may consume. During consideration of this resolution, all time yielded is for the purpose of debate only.
Mr. WEBSTER. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support this rule and the underlying bill. House Resolution 357 provides for a closed rule for consideration [Page: H5252]
of H.R. 2553, the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2011, Part IV.
So far in the 112th Congress, three short-term extensions have been signed into law to allow for the continued aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority necessary to operate America's airports. The latest short-term extension expires this Friday, July 22.
H.R. 2553 would extend the program for a little less than 2 months, until September 16. The bill maintains current funding levels for FAA, its employees, and airports around the country. The bill includes two simple Essential Air Service (EAS) reform provisions, one of which has already passed the Senate by unanimous consent.
Both the House and Senate have passed separate versions of multiyear reauthorization bills, so this short-term extension will hopefully give the House and Senate the time needed to work out the differences between the two bills so we can stop kicking the can down the road.
To say that, that is exactly what we are doing. For starters, this is the 21st extension of the FAA program since the last reauthorization. We have been at this exact juncture 20 other times. The last reauthorization, shepherded by Chairman Mica, was over 7 1/2 years ago. That is a long time. Since September 30, 2007, the FAA has been operating on a series of short-term, stopgap extensions.
Quite simply, it is time to stop doing this. It is too much. The safety of our airline passengers is something we ought to take into consideration and pass a necessary, meaningful and long-term FAA reauthorization.
Once again, Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this rule and the underlying legislation. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has worked to provide us yet another short-term extension which will ensure the continued safety of airline passengers, with the hope that the Senate and the House can finally come to the table and realize a long-term reauthorization.
I encourage my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on the rule and ``yes'' on the underlying bill.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend from Florida for yielding me the time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2011, Part IV, extends aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority at current funding levels through September 16 of this year while also imposing new restrictions on the Essential Air Service program.
Frankly, it is no substitute for a long-term Federal Aviation Administration authorization, and casts further doubt on airport construction and safety improvements instead of ensuring air passenger safety, creating jobs, or investing in air traffic control modernization.
As I'm sure most Americans would agree, the word ``uncertain'' does not belong in a conversation about our Nation's aviation system and it certainly does not belong in the same sentence as air passenger safety. I note a friend in the House who is a pilot agrees with that statement. Over the course of almost 4 years, however, great uncertainty surrounding long-term funding for the FAA has threatened and continues to threaten both. Without steady funding, the FAA is unable to best manage the long-term
programs and projects that are vital to the future of our aviation system, including lifesaving airport safety improvements and the transition to the very important Next Generation Air Transportation System that we know as NextGen.
Make no mistake, the United States has the safest, most efficient aviation system in the world. We can all thank our highly skilled, dedicated aviation professionals for that. But in order to ensure that it remains that way, we must stop kicking the FAA reauthorization can further down the road. I know these cans around here get tired of being kicked down the road.
The measure before us is the 21st short-term FAA extension to be considered since the last FAA authorization bill. Vision 100 expired at the end of September 2007. I repeat: This is the 21st short-term FAA extension we have considered in less than 4 years. It is also the sixth extension of operation authority for fiscal year 2011. Meanwhile, there has been no progress for weeks on a long-term authorization.
While short-term extensions have their place in the legislative process, they should be the exception, not the rule, especially when authorizing the important safety and modernization activities of the FAA. The extension not only fails to address the long-term aviation needs of our Nation, but also denies many of our small and rural communities the air service and economic opportunity made possible by the Essential Air Service program.
By including these policy riders, House Republicans risk a shutdown of our aviation system. Senator Rockefeller, after our Rules Committee meeting last night, made that very clear in a letter from him to Chairman Mica.
Instead of appointing conferees, as the Senate did 100 days ago, House Republicans seem to be pointing fingers and effectively forcing a vote on the future of the EAS program ahead of conference legislation. While House Republicans continue to play the blame game with the Senate, American businesses and workers are losing out on much needed economic opportunities.
Aviation, as we all know, is an economic engine for the United States, contributing $1.3 trillion to our economy, accounting for more than 11.5 million jobs and $396 billion in earnings, and contributing 5.6 percent to our Nation's gross domestic product.
Without full-year funding for the FAA, local officials are unable to move forward with project proposals. Because of this, the FAA is an estimated $800 million to $1 billion behind in obligating funding, which translates to tens of thousands of jobs. Furthermore, if the FAA is unable to utilize these funds before the end of the fiscal year, they risk being reprogrammed or rescinded. This, in my view, is irresponsible, dangerous, and unacceptable. The FAA will have to do more with less, which
reduces its ability to help airports finance safety improvements such as special runway overshoot areas, runway resurfacing, proper signage and lighting, and equipment to prevent snow and ice buildup on runways.
These measures not only save lives but increase efficiency at a time when air traffic is projected to continue growing significantly. According to the FAA, the number of passengers on U.S. airlines is forecasted to increase by about 75 percent within the next 20 years and to reach 1 billion passengers annually within the next decade. We must invest more in our aviation system, not less. Long-term FAA authorization should be an immediate priority.
In the 110th and 111th Congresses, the House, under Democratic leadership, passed FAA reauthorization bills that would have created jobs, improved aviation safety, and provided the FAA with the tools necessary to modernize airport and air traffic control infrastructure.
My friends on the other side should do the responsible thing and appoint conferees so that the House and Senate can work out their differences and finalize a long-term FAA reauthorization bill. Unfortunately, my friends on the other side of the aisle are clearly preoccupied with further isolating small and rural communities than moving this debate forward. In fact, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has held no hearings specifically on the EAS program this year, nor did they
hold a markup on the measure before us.
The Senate is not going to pass this. The letter from Senator Rockefeller makes it very clear, as the chair of the relevant committee in the Senate, that this is not going to pass in its form with the policy riders attached. Yet, without the ability to offer amendments on the floor, as I requested in the Rules Committee last night, to consider a clean extension, one free of the policy riders that will hurt our small and rural communities, we face a shutdown. I believe my good friend
from Florida (Mr. Webster) said on Friday this short-term extension would expire and then our aviation system stands to shut down. That would be most unfortunate.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. PETRI. I thank my colleague for yielding, and I'd like to thank my colleagues on the Rules Committee for so expeditiously bringing up this rule for consideration this afternoon of I think it's the 21st temporary extension of the reauthorization of the FAA legislation.
This reauthorization has been held hostage for several years, and it is not cost-free. It's interfering with the efficiency of operations, the ability to plan and to expend funds on needed airport improvements all across the country. So we're paying a price for this sort of thing, and I really don't think we should be allowing people to assert that they have the right unilaterally to hold up the whole process, that it's their way or the highway, especially when what we're doing in this particular
mild change to reform a needed part of this legislation, Essential Air Service, which is badly in need of reform, is basically acceding to language that's already in the Senate bill. By agreeing to the bill that in this respect has passed the other House, this is nonnegotiable that we can be so bold as to simply say, Fine, we'll agree to the language that you have which basically provides that if an airport is within 90 miles of a major airport, it's not eligible for Essential Air Service.
The other provides that the cap on subsidy from the Federal Government would be $1,000 per passenger.
Now, what are we talking about? You can rent a car for a lot less than $1,000; and most people, frankly, prefer not to go through a couple of changes, to a feeder airline to a hub to another destination, if you're able to avoid it. An hour 45 minutes, hour and a half air travel is certainly perfectly reasonable, especially when you consider in addition that if it really is essential, the Secretary of Transportation has the ability to waive this legislation. So people are just unilaterally assuming
that somehow some terrible thing will happen when the authority already exists in the executive branch to prevent that from happening.
So to further hold the whole system hostage over a small effort to reform what really has been, I think, over a period of years an accumulation of earmarks--people had the ability to provide for a subsidy for an airport in their district in this area or that area because they were in leadership on the committee or in the Congress, and we've seen this pile up and pile up, and it's really about time it gets addressed.
And asking people to find a way to get to an airport, if it's less than 90 miles that they have to find alternative transportation, rather than having the Federal Government subsidize it in a few airports around the country seems to me to be something that is badly in need of doing. It saves money for the taxpayer. Not a whole lot, but I think estimates are between $8 million and $9 million a year. I guess around here that doesn't amount to a whole lot, but in most communities and families and
other areas, that's a lot of money.
Of course, we have to remember the Federal Government isn't the only government concerned. If people really do want a subsidized service because of some local need, the community or the State or the county involved is certainly perfectly free to do that.
So why we should be picking a couple dozen communities around the entire United States and subsidizing to the extent of over $1,000 per passenger to provide this sort of almost air limousine service for a few individuals in these communities is beyond me.
Yet if this is nonnegotiable and we can't concede to the language already in the Senate bill and we're going to have to shut down the whole system, except for essential air service, because of trying to do this modest reform after 23 extensions or 24 extensions, we've really come to a pretty kind of arbitrary and unreasonable place here in this House.
So I urge my colleagues to support the rule and the underlying legislation.
Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas. I thank the gentleman. And I want to associate myself with his very detailed and well-stated opening statement on this legislation.
I think the premise should be that all of us agree on the importance of the FAA. I have served as the chairwoman of the Transportation Security Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee and now serve as its ranking member. Through that timeframe, I have seen the overlapping need to view particularly FAA's work and particularly air traffic controller work as part of both the safety and security of this Nation.
I remind my colleagues of the activist role that air traffic controllers in particular took during 9/11. During the massiveness of confusion and the loss of the destination or the placing of three of our major airlines and planes that were flying in, airplanes, the air traffic controller was really a team that was on the first response, if you will. So their work is enormously important.
And my colleague mentioned some numbers that I think are extremely important: $1.3 trillion is what we find as the revenue in the airline industry, 11 1/2 million jobs, a 75 percent increase in employees within 20 years and 1 billion in the next decade. I want to say that this means that we have a great obligation to protect the American traveling public.
I also want to associate myself with the idea of not protecting our small airports and disadvantaging those airports by this legislation. And again I assume Chairman Rockefeller's comments play to that as well.
But I had offered an amendment that was sent to the Senate to establish a mandate that at the top 20 United States airports there should be no fewer than three air traffic controllers on duty during periods of airfield operations. I firmly believe this provision will ensure that air traffic control towers at high-volume airports in this country will be appropriately staffed at all times.
Mr. Speaker, we engaged with the conference committee very diligently. We have all heard the recent stories of air traffic controllers falling asleep or being locked out of the control tower or, for whatever reason, not being able to be on the job, on duty at critical times.
Now, I know that air traffic controllers reflect the diversity of America and the various ills and concerns. We also know they have long concentrated hours and it's a difficult job. Just recently there was a question of whether or not an air traffic controller was inebriated on the job, whether he drank on the job or he came to the job, he or she, with this condition. But if that was the case and there was one air traffic controller there, there's zero. If that was the case and there were two,
then there was one.
Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas. I thank the gentleman.
I submit that by simply having a codified policy that at the busiest and most critical airports we mandate there be personnel redundancy in control towers, we can make the aviation system much safer and much more secure.
The American passenger has value. Those dear souls who lost their lives on 9/11 who were not exposed to this concept of terrorism had value. The American passenger is entitled to safety and security. Think about the people on planes flying across our country. They are our grandmothers, husbands, wives, babies, family members, businesspersons, associates, colleagues. They're American passengers and their lives have value. To ensure their safety and security, I believe we need more than what
is presently moving in this bill that has not come to the floor, and I believe we should move on with the conferees to be appointed because, as I said, I sent my language to the initial negotiation. We need to move on so there's an opportunity for us to work this idea.
But this is more than a study. We don't need another study. We have already seen the mishaps. On 9/11 we discovered the value and importance of these particular workers, and we now have discovered the problem.
I ask my colleagues to raise the question and to question this rule and this bill, or this extension, because we are putting our American passengers in jeopardy.
Mr. ANDREWS. I thank my friend for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, as we meet this afternoon to consider this very necessary legislation, too many Americans are looking at yet another Friday without a paycheck. Too many Americans are leery when they hear the phone ring for fear it's another dunning phone call from a creditor they can't pay. Too many Americans are stuck for yet another week in a part-time job that doesn't come anywhere close to paying their families' bills.
The country has a jobs crisis. We have the same number of private sector jobs in America today that we had in 2001, and we have 14 percent more people looking for work. We have a jobs crisis.
This is the 196th day of the majority that now runs the House of Representatives, and on not one of those days has the majority taken advantage of the opportunity to come to the floor, work together on legislation that would address this jobs crisis here in our country.
I believe that resolving this crisis requires us to work together in three areas:
First, we have to get our fiscal house in order as a government. We can no longer borrow 40 cents of every dollar we spend, and we certainly cannot let this country fail to meet its obligation to pay its bills--a deadline that is on August 2. Failure to do that would mean more than simply failing our country's national obligations. It would mean higher mortgage rates; it would mean higher car loan rates, higher small business rates; and if we miss the deadline, it would mean not enough money
to pay Social Security checks or our troops or our creditors. We cannot let that happen.
Just across this Capitol, there are signs of hope, where Members of the other body from both political parties have begun to have a serious proposal put on the table that would significantly address our budget problem by reducing entitlement spending, which we must do; by reducing spending on regular government programs, which we must do; by reducing spending on defense in areas that would not weaken our country, which we must do; and yes, by requiring the wealthiest and most successful of Americans
to pay a bit more towards solving this problem. That is a fair and balanced way to approach this problem. I am heartened by the fact that, across the Capitol, both Republicans and Democrats are beginning to make that effort. We should make the same effort here, something we could agree to.
Second, we've got to stimulate the demand for businesses in this country. I think the main reason so many employers are not hiring is they legitimately fear there won't be enough customers to buy their appliances or their antibiotics or their software, that there isn't enough demand in our economy.
One of the reasons we don't have that demand is we send $1 billion a day to Middle Eastern countries which sell us oil. Why don't we keep that $1 billion here in the United States of America and put it to work by putting Americans to work, whether it's in building windmill farms off the coast or solar farms throughout our rural areas or in exploring regular, conventional sources of energy in a safe and environmentally conscious way. Let's do that.
Why aren't we investing to give ourselves a continued lead in the biotechnology industry? As scientists are figuring out ways to grow new tissue that heals hearts and livers and kidneys, why aren't we working to retain our leadership position in the world in order to create jobs here in our country?
So these are ways that we could and should work together.
Mr. ANDREWS. Why aren't we doing far more than we're doing this afternoon on this airport bill?
Airport investment puts Americans to work, and good air travel makes growth possible, but look at what we're doing: a temporary, scanty extension of our investment in our air traffic system because we can't get our fiscal house in order to agree to the kind of extension that we need.
We have 196 days of missed opportunity. Let's not make tomorrow the 197th day of missed opportunity. Let's come together; work together as Republicans and Democrats, and create an environment where entrepreneurs can begin to create the jobs that we so desperately need here in our country. Yes, we have a deficit in America--it is a very serious deficit--but the most serious deficit we have is a jobs deficit, and until we can find a way to put 15 million unemployed Americans back to work, our deficits
Mr. WEBSTER. Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the people who might be watching this that we're talking about House Resolution 357, which is a rule that would allow us to reauthorize an extension of the Airport and Airway Extension Act, which is called H.R. 2553. That's our discussion. That's what we're talking about.
I continue to reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. WEBSTER. In closing, I would like to address one thing about the change that's in this particular reauthorization, that of essential air service, which has basically become the government-funded corporate jet program. We've tried to reduce that. If you're a businessman and you live in a rural community, instead of being willing to drive an hour and a half to get on a plane at a medium- or small-sized hub, you're willing to have the government fund your airplane for you. It's basically a corporate
member, somebody who has a business there. He gets on a jet, and to the tune of up to $3,720, we subsidize that. The taxpayers of this country subsidize that, so it's like a subsidized corporate jet.
It's a sad thing. We want to reduce that. We'd like to do away with it, and a lot of us would like to do away with it altogether; but it would reduce that down to $1,000 instead of having to drive, maybe, an hour and a half to an airport. It's a sad thing.
However, another sad thing is that we're here. I am sad about the fact that we're standing here on the floor once again to vote for another extension. I wish it had worked out. I wish we could get together, and I hope that happens in the next few weeks if we approve this. This extension is necessary to ensure continued safety for all who fly, be it for business or pleasure or for any other reason, in the American skies.
I ask my colleagues to join me today and vote in favor of this rule and of passage of the underlying bill.
I yield back the balance of my time, and I move the previous question on the resolution.