FAA bill allowing privatization passes on close House vote

After a struggle lasting for months, the House voted Thursday to approve a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure over objections from Democrats and concern from some Republicans that the bill would allow the privatization of air traffic control towers.

In a mostly partisan vote of 211-207, lawmakers approved the bill without language Democrats said was necessary to protect the jobs of traffic controllers.

Eleven Republicans voted against the bill, including Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., William Janklow, R-S.D., Tim Johnson, R-Ill., Ray Lahood, R-Ill., John McHugh, R-N.Y., Ron Paul, R-Texas, John Peterson, R-Pa., Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., Christopher Shays, R-Conn., John Sweeney, R-N.Y., and Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, voted to approve the conference report.

Although privatization of air traffic control had emerged as the most contentious issue in the bill, members on both sides of the aisle have criticized other provisions included in the legislation, including the "cabotage" provision that would allow foreign air carriers to transport cargo from point-to-point within the United States.

Peterson said his vote against the conference report was based on a provision revising the Essential Air Services program, which funds small rural airports. A conference provision, which was not included in the House or Senate bills, would set up a pilot program in which rural airports would be required to produce a 10 percent co-payment in order to receive EAS funds.

As they had promised, many Democrats worked Thursday to stall floor discussion of the bill. Throughout the floor debate, Democrats filed a litany of motions to slow the bill's progress, including several motions to adjourn accompanied by time-consuming roll call votes.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who had vowed to fight the bill on the floor, called the conference report "a partisan travesty."

Labor groups, including the AFL-CIO and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, responded quickly to Thursday's vote, applauding the Republicans who voted against the report and urging those in the Senate to do the same.

"It is a shame that after much arm-twisting, some Republicans reversed their earlier vote to specifically prohibit privatization of our skies," said NATCA president John Carr.

He said the approved conference report is at odds with the original House and Senate bills, which each included anti-privatization language.

"What's the point of a checks-and-balances system of government if the overwhelming will of both houses of Congress can get tossed aside like yesterday's trash?" Carr said.

In the Senate, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who has established himself as the most vocal Senate opponent of air traffic control privatization, tried Thursday to call a vote on a six-month extension of the FAA, to give Congress more time to discuss the contentious reauthorization. The measure was blocked by Senate Republicans.

A Senate floor vote on the reauthorization is expected next week, and Lautenberg has said he will filibuster the bill.

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