Senate moves FAA reauthorization forward

The Senate on Thursday cleared a procedural hurdle as it moved closer to reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ahead of Friday’s midnight deadline.

Senators voted 84 to 13 to open debate on the five-year reauthorization, putting them within shouting distance of clearing the complex package.

“We hope to get this done today to keep the FAA funded and operational before tomorrow’s deadline,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor. “The work we’re doing on FAA is going to have practical consequences for millions of Americans that travel by air every single day, so senators have every reason in the world to continue working on a bipartisan basis to get this done.”

However, lawmakers have a number of troublesome items they are trying to navigate in order to avoid a lapse, with questions surrounding when the Senate can wrap up its work. Headlining that is the ongoing push by senators from the greater Washington, D.C., area to secure an amendment vote to overturn a provision in the final package that adds five new slots (or 10 round-trip flights) out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

Negotiators and top lawmakers have been trying to get the final bill across the finish line without allowing members additional amendment votes. But senators from Maryland and Virginia have continued to cry foul about the possibility that they will not get a crack at overturning the DCA provision, which they have opposed for the past year. They argue it is unsafe and will cause myriad delays at the airport in order to accommodate a few more long-haul flights.

All four senators voted no on opening debate.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a new statement Thursday that they will not greenlight a plan to collapse time in order for the chamber to complete its work in swift fashion.

“Last month’s near-miss at DCA is a flashing red warning light that this airport is overburdened and that cramming more flights onto the busiest runway in America is a terrible idea,” they said, referring to an incident in mid-April.

“We can’t in good conscience greenlight that plan until we have a commitment that there will be an opportunity to put our amendment to a vote, and to persuade our colleagues to prioritize the safety of millions of passengers over a few senators’ desire for a direct flight home,” the pair said.

The Maryland and Virginia senators are also objecting to the possibility of a one-week FAA extension over complaints that it would only give senators more of a chance to run out the clock without an amendment vote.

Managers of the bill were buoyed by the strong vote, even though the Maryland-Virginia Senate contingent voted against moving toward final passage.

“I think our colleagues want to get this done,” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters. “This is a body where people can object, and so my guess is there are still objections to adding other things, but maybe there is something we can work out, and we’re still trying.”

Cantwell and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), the top Republican on the Commerce Committee who is managing the bill for the GOP, both told reporters that if the Maryland-Virginia senators were to win an amendment vote, and it succeeded, it could “unravel” the entire bill.

Senate GOP amused with Cruz’s FAA reversal

DCA has long been concentrated on short-haul flights under 1,250 miles, with less than a dozen exceptions. Most long-haul flights use Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Dulles is a hub for United Airlines, which has heavily lobbied against the push to add DCA flights over the past year.

Top members have also tried to keep all unrelated amendments out of the FAA package over fears that the inclusion of one item over another would spur a series of holds and complicate final passage.

“Clearly, we have a number of objections on our side, which are probably not going to go away,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday. “It’s hard to envision a scenario where you get one nongermane amendment over the objections of all the other people who have nongermane amendments they want to get considered.

The House will need to pass the bill next week in order for it to reach President Biden’s desk.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.