GOP conferees back FAA measure without privatization language

House and Senate Republicans Wednesday reopened-and promptly concluded-conference talks on a $60 billion reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration despite the fact that Democrats in both chambers continued to say they will block the package when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., filed the conference report Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Commerce Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that Republicans had decided to drop from the conference report air traffic control privatization language that led to Democratic opposition to the bill and the current impasse. However, conferees did not reinsert House- and Senate-passed provisions barring the Bush administration from undertaking the privatization plan.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., also said Wednesday's conference meeting would consider only the privatization issue, despite calls by House Democrats that the entire bill be reopened. However, McCain indicated that he did not expect that conferees would be able to come to an agreement with Democrats, saying, "We've been trying that for months and we haven't been able to do that."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn., have led Democratic opposition to the conference report because of the privatization deal. Lautenberg has successfully mustered enough support among Democrats to back his filibuster threat.

Lautenberg said Wednesday that he is "prepared to walk, talk and do whatever it takes to make sure this thing doesn't pass."

Although McCain told reporters that he believed he now had enough votes to end a filibuster, Lautenberg said he expected the 11 Republican who voted against privatization in June to remain opposed to the bill.

House leaders have indicated they will have a floor vote on the conference report next week, and Senate action would follow shortly, McCain said.