GOP confident on FAA bill, but privatization issues unresolved

With Federal Aviation Administration funding set to expire when the current continuing resolution ends Oct. 31, Republican conferees are confident they will garner enough votes to reauthorize the agency and its programs this week or next.

One GOP source said reauthorization is "very imminent" and conferees would not need another CR to continue the FAA negotiations. He acknowledged that some aspects of the conference bill, particularly the provision allowing partial privatization of the air traffic control workforce, may need to be "modified" in order to secure enough votes for approval.

Democrats, however, said conferees will have to do much more than that to pass a reauthorization bill before the end of the month. Several Democrats, including Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, have said they will not approve reauthorization unless conferees reinsert the original language-included in the reauthorization bills passed by the House and Senate-expressly prohibiting any air traffic control privatization.

Lautenberg said today that the Bush administration's insistence on including the conference bill's privatization language is forcing Republicans to make deals they are unhappy with, simply to secure enough votes for passage.

"Hardliners in the White House have really put Republican leaders in a bad position, holding up the FAA legislation over politics and corporate favors," Lautenberg contended. "And I certainly don't think anybody wants practical decisions concerning the safety of the flying public in the hands of ideologues in the White House."

One House Democratic source familiar with the FAA conference said she is not confident that Congress can pass the reauthorization bill in the next two weeks, and that Republicans would have already brought the bill to a vote if they had enough votes for passage.

"It would be great if we could do this without another CR," the source said, but she added that a broadly supported bipartisan bill would have to include the original anti-privatization provision. "Republicans hold the cards here; no one's holding this up but them," she said.

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