March 31, 2011

Rahall: Republican FAA Bill Sends American Jobs into Thin Air

Washington, D.C.– U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today led efforts in the House of Representatives to fend off attempts by Republicans to decrease air passenger safety, destroy American jobs, and diminish aviation and economic options for rural communities.

The House today began debate on the “FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011” (H.R. 658), a controversial four-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will destroy American jobs.  The bill proposes to make $4 billion in cuts to the FAA, which will have dire consequences for our Nation’s infrastructure, jobs, and economy.  The partisan bill would cut the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for runway maintenance and safety enhancements by almost $2 billion, costing more than 70,000 American jobs -- especially hurting small airports.

The bill would also eliminate Essential Air Service (EAS) for 110 rural communities – including 4 in West Virginia – needed to connect them with global commerce, support local jobs, and spur economic growth.

A vote on final passage of H.R. 658 is expected in the House tomorrow.

Below are Rahall’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Remarks of U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, II
Ranking Member
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Floor Consideration of H.R. 658 – FAA reauthorization bill
March 31, 2011

Mr. Chairman, just last week, two airliners landed at Washington National Airport without landing clearances because, apparently, the single person in charge of the control tower fell asleep.  While investigations are ongoing, we have certainly seen accidents in the past where controller staffing and fatigue were implicated, such as the August 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, Kentucky.  So I was surprised when my Republican colleagues used this most recent incident at Washington National Airport as an opportunity to argue the FAA should “do more with less.”

“Do more with less:” that is how the Republicans think the FAA will operate under this bill.  When we are talking about investing in air traffic control modernization, or regulating safety, or hiring a sufficient number of safety inspectors, there is no such thing as “doing more with less.”  Under this bill, the FAA will have to do less with less, and you would have to be asleep at the controls not to see that.  The FAA is primarily a safety agency, and virtually all of its activities are safety-related.  As last week’s incident should make clear, now is not the time to arbitrarily cut almost $4 billion from FAA programs and argue that the agency can do more with less on safety.   

A long-term FAA reauthorization bill must move the aviation system forward into the 21st Century, create jobs, strengthen our economy and provide the resources necessary to enhance safety.  This legislation does not meet those goals.  It will require significant changes before it can be enacted into law, and therefore I cannot support it.

One thing we should all be honest about right now: This is not a jobs bill.  The bill cuts FAA funding by billions of dollars, back to 2008 levels.  You cannot cut funding so dramatically without destroying tens of thousands of jobs: Federal jobs, state jobs, local jobs, public and private sector jobs.  In addition to costing jobs, the bill’s funding cuts would cause delays to air traffic control modernization – meaning more delayed flights – a reduction of FAA’s safety workforce and delays to FAA safety rules.

In addition to the funding levels, two particular issues preclude my support of this bill.  The first is that the bill sunsets the Essential Air Service program for the lower 48 states in 2013, leaving behind about 110 communities across the country.  Yet, at the same time, the bill extends airport improvement funding to the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.  We do not even own them – they are independent countries.

I understand the reasons for providing airport improvement funds to these island nations.  We have a compact with them.  But in seeking to keep faith with our agreements with those countries, the Majority is more than willing to break the promise to rural America right here at home that was made under the Airline Deregulation Act and the FAA reauthorization bills that followed.

EAS is a vital lifeline between rural communities and the global network of commerce.  Small and rural communities have grown up around EAS, which directly supports local jobs, creates a flow of goods and commerce into and out of small towns, brings families together, and links four communities in my home state of West Virginia with other cities and towns around the country and around the world.  EAS subsidy is an investment, not a handout.  It is an investment in jobs and economic growth for small towns.  The Majority is turning its back on small towns.

I will continue to work with my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion to honor the promise that Congress has made to people in rural America.  I recognize the job-protecting benefits of the EAS program and the value of this critical Federal investment for rural communities.

Another section that has no business being in this bill seeks to overturn a rule finalized by the National Mediation Board on fair union representation elections.  The rule did away with an unjust and undemocratic requirement under which a super-majority of airline and railroad workers had to vote in favor of union representation before a union could be certified to represent them at the bargaining table.  Non-votes were counted as “no” votes, even though there was no reason to conclude workers were against union representation because they were sick or on furlough and did not vote.

The final rule, which this bill would overturn, says that the mediation board must count the votes among those employees who voted, and must determine the will of the workers according to the “yes” and “no” votes actually cast.  Just as Congressional elections turn on the majority of those who voted, union representation elections should reflect the will of the voters.

Again, a provision to overturn that rule simply has no business being in this legislation.  It has nothing to do with safety, it has nothing to do with improving our air transportation system, and it has nothing to do with making air service more efficient.  Rather, it is a lightning rod of controversy – part of a concerted assault on collective-bargaining.  Republicans and Democrats alike have opposed it; it barely survived the Committee markup of the bill by a single vote.  This unprovoked and unnecessary provision has no place in such critically-needed legislation to keep the FAA moving forward and the flying public safe.

When it comes to doing “more with less” my friends on the other side of the aisle are correct about a few things when it comes to the pending legislation.  More than 70,000 jobs lost with less funding for the Airport Improvement Program.  More risks to the traveling public with less safety personnel and initiatives.  More assaults on collective bargaining rights for American workers.  More controversial poison pill provisions with less focus on job creation and safety enhancements.

With warning lights flashing and alarm bells ringing, we cannot afford to go to sleep at the controls at such an important time for our aviation system.  I yield the balance of my time.