Senate Democrats say they can block FAA reauthorization

The Senate was scheduled to vote Monday afternoon on the conference committee report on legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, although Democrats maintained they had enough votes to sustain a filibuster by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

Lautenberg has led Democrats in opposing the bill because he believes it allows President Bush to privatize air traffic controllers by executive order. "After repeated bipartisan attempts to work something out, the White House has been intransigent on this. Both Houses said no to privatization, yet the administration continues to demand authorization to move ahead with its scheme," said Lautenberg. "If we allow the White House to simply ignore the clear will of Congress on this safety and security issue, then this branch of government ceases to be relevant."

Lautenberg urged his fellow senators to defeat the cloture motion and pass a six-month extension of FAA programs so the issue can be further discussed.

Meanwhile, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said Monday that the current wrangling over air tower privatization belies more fundamental problems plaguing the American airline industry. At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Donohue said the three most important issues facing air travel are the application of new security technologies, increasing employee productivity, and enhancing the safety of the system.

The two most effective means of dealing with those problems, Donohue said, are increasing efficiency in passenger security screening and re-evaluating the way U.S. industries treat undocumented immigrant workers, whom he said will make up an increasing percentage of America's baggage handlers and airport employees. Donohue said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, might ultimately cost "three or four years" in terms of updating the U.S. air transit system. What is needed now is a paradigm shift in how airport screeners look at passengers, he said.

"You have to profile [passengers]. You have to do random checks. You have to get away from the attitude that everyone coming into an airport is a bad person," Donohue said.

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