US Congress Resumes Negotiations On $60 Bln FAA Bill

For Immediate Release:

October 30, 2003

Contact:John Godfrey

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

WASHINGTON -- U.S. House and Senate negotiators reopened talks Wednesday on the four-year, $60 billion reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Negotiations began following an unanimous vote by the House Tuesday night to send negotiators back to the bargaining table.

Republicans, who control a majority in both chambers, had reached agreement on the bill in July. Opposition to language in the agreement on air traffic control towers, though, left the agreement without the votes to pass either chamber. The agreement would have allowed the Bush Administration to privatize some air traffic control towers, but not others.

Particularly galling to some was the fact that Alaska Republicans Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens had used their seniority on the House and Senate transportation committees to exempt towers in their state from privatization.

House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., had sought to win back Republican votes for the agreement by exempting still more towers in Republican-controlled states and districts.

The original House and Senate versions of the bill included language specifically barring further privatization. The White House threatened to veto the bill if it included such language. Negotiators agreed to instead bar privatization in all but 69 control towers.

Top negotiator Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said they will now simply drop the language from the bill.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer , D-Md., however, warned that "simply striking the objectionable measure is not enough since that would still permit the FAA, under an existing executive order, to privatize any air traffic control tower it wants."

Mica says he will do whatever is necessary on control tower privatization to get the FAA bill passed: "69, 79, or no towers, I am willing to work with the Senate," he said.