With reauthorization in the air, Mica cuts up on FAA

Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., is just a guy trying to get a job done. If a looming government shutdown doesn't overwhelm his House colleagues, his bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration should be completed by Friday.

Emphasis on "should." Mica is just relaying what he hears from House leaders, he told a group of aviation lobbyists on Wednesday. Floor debate is slated to begin on the bill on Thursday. The continuing resolution funding the government runs out on April 8.

"I think most of you came because you probably want to go back and tell everybody that you found out from Mica what the hell is going on. I wish I knew," Mica said. "We're all here worrying about April 8. Maybe we won't have to worry about reauthorizations for anything."

But seriously, folks, enough about government shutdowns. Mica and the aviation lobbying community agree that they've been waiting long enough. The last FAA bill expired in 2007 and lawmakers are about to enact its 18th extension to give House and Senate negotiators time to work out their differences on a longer reauthorization. The Senate passed its FAA bill in February. Shutdowns weren't the buzzwords of the day then, but a big chunk of Senate debate time was devoted to political amendments like repealing health care.

If lawmakers are given half the chance, odds are high that they can reach a deal on the FAA bill. There is the slightly controversial matter of long-distance slots at Washington's Reagan National Airport, a big deal for a few West Coast senators with long flights home who despise Dulles International Airport located in the D.C. exurbs. The Senate bill calls for 16 long-distance slots at National Airport. "I've got 10. I'm willing to deal [pause] but not right now," Mica said, demonstrating a pro's timing on lunchtime keynote delivery.

The most lively debate on the FAA bill likely will revolve around unions. Mica inserted language making it harder for unions to become certified as official representatives of aviation and rail workers. His provision designates workers who decline to vote in a union certification election as "no" votes, reversing a National Mediation Board decision last year to count only those workers who cast ballots. Reps. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Jerry Costello, D-Ill., plan to offer an amendment to strip Mica's language.

The union-unfriendly Republican House majority virtually guarantees that the LaTourette/Costello amendment will be defeated, but it will facilitate a few fiery floor speeches on labor issues.

And the Obama administration will get in the way of Mica's language. In a Statement of Administration Policy issued on Wednesday, the White House threatened Obama's veto of the FAA measure if it lands on his desk with language "that would not safeguard the ability of railroad and airline workers to decide whether or not they would be represented by a union based upon a majority of the ballots cast in an election."

The AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department sent a letter to House members on Tuesday arguing that a vote for the amendment will ensure "swift passage" of the FAA bill because the Senate likely will balk at Mica's language. "Repealing union-election rules has nothing to do with the core aviation safety and investment priorities that should be the focus of this legislation," the letter said.

Mica is undaunted, taking as a badge of honor the scorn of MSNBC's overtly liberal TV anchor Rachel Maddow. "My prediction is we'll pass the change," he said of the union provision. "That doesn't make Rachel Maddow happy. I'm one of her most unfavorable people in the media."

Mica expertly puffed his conservative feathers in citing Maddow's former colleague Keith Olbermann. "I used to look forward to being his `Worst Person' of the week. I think I got that at least a half a dozen times, and I do miss him. But now we have Rachel, and she's all upset about me turning all of this back to actually what we had before, and it worked pretty darn well. [pause] But she'll get over it, too."

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