Late last week, the House passed a four-year, $59.7 billion reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). H.R. 658 passed by a vote of 223-169. The Senate passed its own version of the bill in February. S.223 is a two-year, $34.6 billion reauthorization. There were over 30 amendments considered in the House, with 14 of those being adopted.
While the House and Senate bills contain significant differences, there are several provisions that are likely be the more heavily debated topics in conference. The most obvious of these issues is the difference in the reauthorization period, as well as the dollar amount. The House version costs $59.7 billion over four years, while the Senate version is two years, costing $34.6 billion. Both chambers will have to work to find some sort of compromise on these two differences. Another issue that has the ability to heat up the debate involves union organization. Language in the House version would overturn a National Mediation Board rule on union elections. Under the Railway Labor Act, the Board supervises union negotiation for the airline and rail industries. By overturning the rule, union-elections would no longer be determined by the majority of votes cast, rather than a majority of eligible voters. In the past, eligible employees that did not cast an actual ballot were counted as a "no". This provision would make the process of forming a union more difficult for airline and railroad workers. President Obama's office has threatened to veto the bill and Senate Democrats do not believe it will stand a chance of passing the Senate should the final bill contain this provision.
Disagreements are also expected between the House and Senate over the Essential Air Service (EAS). EAS guarantees that small communities (usually rural) are served by certificated airlines. The House bill terminates the program in 2013 with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. The Senate bill retains the program and increases its authorized spending. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman, John Rockefeller IV of West Virginia has said the EAS program is one of his highest priorities and he will focus on it when the bill is in conference.
The current short-term extension of the FAA Reauthorization, passed early last week, will expire at the end of May. That extension will give lawmakers time to send their bills to conference and attempt to come to an agreement on a final long-term reauthorization.