Friday, April 26, 2013

So much for the furloughs . . .

Last night, it was the Senate:

At 8:34 p.m., the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, legislation (S. 853) allowing the transfer of funding from unobligated Airport Improvement Program discretionary balances to the FAA’s Operations account in order to minimize the furloughs of air traffic controllers.

According to sources, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forced the bill’s sponsors (led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)) to modify the legislation and drop provisions present in the earlier draft versions of the bill that would have also used the funds to prevent the closure during fiscal year 2013 of any air traffic control towers currently being operated under contract.  It is still not quite clear if Reid is forcing the shutdown of the contract towers for his own reasons or if he is acting on behalf of the Obama Administration (or on behalf of another Democratic Senator).  One source close to the negotiation called Reid an “immovable object” against efforts to prevent contract tower closures.
The House of Representatives may take up the bill tomorrow.  Language of the bill as passed should be available shortly.
Because the bill moves money from a slower-spending capital account to a faster-spending operations account, the bill increases total federal outlays in fiscal year 2013 and thus triggers a point of order under section 311 of the Budget Act (though the ten-year impact of the bill on total federal deficits is said to be de minimis, because the increased FY 2013 spending is offset by lowered spending in years after FY 2013).
The act of agreeing to the bill by unanimous consent in the Senate also overruled any points of order under the Budget Act in that chamber. 
The House of Representatives earlier today put into place a special procedure that would allow the House to consider the Senate-passed FAA bill on Friday under the expedited “suspension of the rules” procedure, which requires a two-thirds vote but also limits debate to 40 minutes, prohibits amendments, and has the effect of waiving all Budget Act points of order.  So, if Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor decide to bring the Senate-passed bill to the floor tomorrow, no procedural problems would stand in their way.
Reid also got a UC agreement that if the House passes its own identical bill tomorrow, the Senate be deemed to have agreed to that bill.  This eliminates any possible problem with S. 853 being considered an appropriations bill that, by custom, must originate in the House.

Then today, the House followed:

At 12:13 P.M., the House of Representatives passed the bill H.R. 1765, transferring $253 million from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program to the FAA’s Operations account to prevent further furloughs of air traffic controllers and (possibly) to prevent the closure of air traffic control towers operated under contract.  The vote was 361 yeas to 41 nays.

The text of H.R. 1765 is identical in every respect to the text of the bill S. 853 as passed by the Senate last night.  Because the two bills are identical, House passage of H.R. 1765 activates an order into which the Senate entered last night that automatically sends H.R. 1765 to the White House for President Obama’s signature without any further action.

The bill moves up to $253 million from the slow-spending AIP account to the fast-spending Operations account.  As a result, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that H.R. 1765/S. 853 would increase the FAA’s outgoing cash flow from the Operations account by about $200 million in fiscal year 2013 but would also lower the outgoing cash flow of the AIP program in subsequent years so that the bill only increases total FAA outlays by $4 million over a ten-year period.

(By law, FAA contract authority stays “available until expended,” which means forever, and as Prince said, forever is a mighty long time – so just because unobligated balances have been on the books for a while does not mean that they won’t get spent.  The cuts in AIP balances will result in eventual real spending reductions in AIP grants.)

Quoted from NATCA press releases. No word yet on what will happen to those controllers who already took a furlough day . . .

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