Oberstar Pushes for President, Republicans to Reach a Deal on FAA Bill

In a broad-ranging “exit interview” with reporters Tuesday, the outgoing House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman said he still thinks an FAA reauthorization can be completed in the lame-duck session and that he has urged the Obama administration to work with Republicans to make it happen.

James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., said he has asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and President Obama to take up the matter with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and reach an agreement to quickly move the bill.

“I’m willing to take whatever the Senate sends us,” said Oberstar, who was defeated in a bid for a 19th term on Election Day. “Well — at least a $1 increase in PFCs,” he added, referring to the landing fees airports can charge, known as Passenger Facility Charges.

Lawmakers have been trying for months to complete work on a long-term authorization (HR 915, S 1451).

However, several disagreements have stymied final action on the bill, including whether to raise the per-flight cap on the PFCs, which airports can tack onto the price of a ticket to use for capital improvements.

Other disagreements have included House-passed language that would have the effect of making it easier for Fed- Ex ground workers to unionize, putting them on the same labor-law footing as UPS, as well as efforts by Western lawmakers to expand long-distance flights in and out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Oberstar said Obama will meet with the new Republican leadership and that the long-delayed FAA reauthorization bill could be a topic for discussion. That meeting, originally scheduled for Thursday, was rescheduled for after Thanksgiving.

“The president’s going to meet with them,” Oberstar said. “I hope he’ll take that matter up. In fact, I expect that he will, and see if there’s an appetite to reach an agreement.”

Surface Transportation Law

He said he expects the length of any extension of surface transportation programs, which will expire on Dec. 31 (PL 111-147), to also be a topic for discussion between Obama and Republicans.

Oberstar said he has recommended a one-year extension of the law. Efforts to write a new multi-year highway bill in the current Congress stalled over disagreements about how to pay for new surface transportation spending.

Oberstar and some others have supported raising the gasoline tax, an idea Obama and leading Senate Democrats have staunchly opposed. That disagreement has pushed real debate on the surface transportation reauthorization bill into next year.

Oberstar called the lack of a surface transportation bill a “big hole in the legislative agenda” and a great disappointment.

But he declined to criticize Obama over the issue Tuesday, although he has had plenty of choice words to say about the White House’s lack of focus on transportation policy in the past.

Oberstar said Obama was true to his campaign pledge not to raise taxes.

“I understand what the president is doing, he’s keeping faith with his own campaign commitments,” Oberstar said.

But he couldn’t resist noting that shortly after the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956, Congress had to pass a gas tax increase to help fund the system. It passed on a voice vote.

“You can’t pass a prayer on a voice vote in the House anymore, and certainly not the Senate,” Oberstar said.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 17, 2010 print issue of CQ Today

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Nonunion Carrier Uses Lobby to Skirt the Law

In the U.S. free enterprise system, corporations are not supposed to use the government as a weapon to punish their competitors. They certainly aren’t supposed to manipulate federal law so they’re treated differently than every other company in America.

And yet that is exactly what FedEx CEO Fred Smith has been getting away with for 14 years.

In 1996, Smith successfully lobbied for a special exception to a 73-year-old law regulating railway express companies.

It’s a legal loophole that gives FedEx an advantage over all of its competitors. The loophole allows FedEx Express to make it almost impossible for its drivers to organize a union, a privilege denied every other large, medium and small package delivery company in America.

The House of Representatives recognizes that Fred Smith’s special exception is not only unfair but contrary to free-market principles. This year, House members voted to take out the loophole. That would restore the law to the way it was when first enacted in 1923.

The House vote was part of a bill authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget.

In the last three months, Smith spent $7 million to block the FAA budget.

That bill has moved to the Senate, where Fred Smith’s friends from Tennessee are standing in its way. Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are thus holding up improvements in air safety, modernization of the air traffic control system and expansion of airports.

Of course Fred Smith doesn’t want people to know how he’s gaming the system.

So he’s running a campaign to mislead the American public. You may have seen his “brown bailout” campaign, which accuses his rival, UPS, of asking for special treatment from Congress.

In other words, Smith spent $7 million in three months to preserve a special favor from the government. FedEx employees would prefer that the company spend some of that money on restoring their pensions and improving health care benefits.

Smith’s multi-million-dollar misinformation campaign relies on the fact that most Americans don’t pay close attention to the small details of big spending bills.

News reports 14 years ago tell the real story. According to the New York Times on Oct. 12, 1996, Smith has “one of the most formidable and successful corporate lobbies in the capital.”

FedEx’s lobbying campaign includes “A generous political action committee, the presence of popular former Congressional leaders from both parties on its board, lavish spending on lobbying, and a fleet of corporate jets that ferry dozens of officeholders to political events around the country,” according to the Times article, titled “Federal Express Knows Its Way Around Capital.”

The public is rightfully disgusted by people who use their wealth to undermine the public purpose in favor of their own.

In this case, the public purpose is simple fairness. It doesn’t cost billions of dollars to tell the truth.

It’s too bad that Sens. Corker and Alexander are enabling one obsessed rich man to control Congress for his own selfish ends.…

Teamsters Urge Congress to Stand Up to FedEx and Pass FAA Reauthorization

Congress Passes Another Three-Month Extension

(WASHINGTON) — Congress has voted to extend the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill for another three months, delaying important job creation and safety provisions and a key measure to close the FedEx loophole giving the company special status.

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa urged Congress to stand up to FedEx, which has been blocking passage of the legislation. The extension, to Dec. 31, was passed by the House and Senate on Thursday.

“Congress must address the issue of fairness when it comes to FedEx’s special treatment that allows it to treat its truck drivers as airline workers,” Hoffa said.

The two senators from Tennessee, at the behest of Memphis-based FedEx (NYSE:FDX), have been threatening a filibuster to block the provision in the bill closing the FedEx loophole.

“Congress cannot bow to the wishes of one company and hold up this legislation because FedEx wants to keep its special status,” said Teamsters Package Division Director and International Vice President Ken Hall.

The Express Carrier Employee Protection Act in the FAA Reauthorization Bill will end the special treatment that FedEx lobbyists won in 1996. The measure would establish one set of rules for all package delivery companies. The provision is in the House-passed version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which also includes important safety measures for the traveling public and the industry, and would create more than 125,000 new jobs each year.

FedEx Express is the only freight and package delivery company in the United States allowed to classify truck drivers, sorters, loaders and unloaders as airline workers. More than 90,000 FedEx Express employees who never even touch an airplane are treated as airline workers under the Railway Labor Act. Truck drivers, sorters, loaders and unloaders at small businesses, UPS and every other freight and package delivery company in the United States are under the National Labor Relations Act.

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, including 250,000 workers at UPS.

Congress Needs to Pass FAA Bill

Let’s hope President Barack Obama’s Labor Day announcement to create jobs by investing in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure doesn’t meet the same fate as most proposals to fix our transportation system and jump-start the economy.

More than 400 bills passed by the House of Representatives have stalled or met their death at the hands of the Senate. The aviation bill, which funds air traffic control modernization, airport expansion and makes air travel safer, suffered this same fate when Congress went home for the summer without completing the long overdue overhaul of aviation laws. Expiring aviation programs have now been extended 15 times thanks to political gridlock.

Never mind outdated safety rules. Forget about the aging air traffic control system and long delays on the tarmac. Ignore the high jobless rate and the fact that the aviation bill would put hundreds of thousands to work. That is what a few senators decided for air travelers, aviation employees and unemployed Americans when they blocked this bill.

Lobbyists for FedEx and their allies in the Senate have made no secret that they will use every available obstructionist tactic to block the Senate from voting on the bill. Why? Because the final bill may force FedEx to play by the same rules as their competitors.

A correction, which passed two to one in the House aviation bill with bipartisan support, fixes a legal fiction that permits FedEx to classify its truck drivers and mechanics as aviation workers for purposes of labor law coverage. This legislation ensures that one company can’t game our laws at the expense of its competitors, most notably Atlanta-based UPS.

The flying public shouldn’t have to wait any longer for Congress to make air travel safer and more reliable.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s 88 million annual users bear the brunt of Congress’ inaction: Atlanta passengers have a one in four chance of departing or arriving late. And with traffic projected to soar about 50 percent nationally by 2020, Atlanta and our entire aviation system can’t handle that kind of growth. Airports are already operating at capacity, 1950s-era, radar-based air traffic control systems are still in use, Federal Aviation Administration staffing is failing to keep pace with projected demand, and passengers live with the consequences.

Needed safety reforms have been staring us in the face for years, and it’s time to get them done.

If sensibility prevails, this legislation would tighten up federal scrutiny of overseas maintenance facilities that don’t meet U.S. standards. It would end the exclusion of flight attendants from basic federal health and safety protections. And the air that passengers and crew breathe on planes would be safer and healthier.

Investment in our aviation infrastructure would also get a boost. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our aviation infrastructure a D grade. With this bill, we’ll build and improve runways, expand terminals and implement new technologies.

The president clearly knows that infrastructure investments create jobs. With double-digit unemployment in Georgia, these are the kinds of jobs that families need.

While Congress should pass the president’s Labor Day infrastructure investment plan, the comprehensive aviation bill is a ready-made jobs bill that can reach the president’s desk this month.

When lawmakers return to Washington, the Senate must have the chance to vote for the full aviation bill that creates 300,000 jobs and sustains millions more. Senators must vote on a bill that will expand our aviation infrastructure; invest in air traffic control modernization; update outdated safety laws and regulations; and address major FAA operational and labor-management issues.

Obstructionists have transformed the Senate into the place that most good ideas go to die. For the sake of the flying public, let’s hope that critical air safety reform and investment are not among them.

Edward Wytkind is the president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, which represents workers in 32 unions in aviation, rail, transit, trucking, highway, longshore, maritime and related industries.

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