Aviation and the Lame Duck Session

By Bill Deere, NATA Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs

The mid-term elections are concluded, the people have spoken, and Congress returned on Wednesday from two months of campaigning for a lame duck session that is expected to end in mid-December.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “lame duck session” is the nickname for a session of Congress that follows an election and includes lawmakers who will not be members of the next Congress, having decided to retire or were defeated.

Initially, it was thought that should control of the Senate change hands as a result of the election, very little legislative activity would occur in the lame duck.  However, even with Republicans winning control of the Senate, an effort is being made to act on at least two fronts, appropriations and taxes.

FAA Appropriations

Before adjourning, lawmakers approved legislation funding the government through December 11th. The legislation also contained other provisions including a nine month extension of the Export-Import Bank.  As a result, the FAA has been operating since October 1st at funding levels below the increases recommended for the agency by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

The expiration of government funding on December 11th was deliberately chosen by House and Senate appropriators to give them time to develop an “omnibus” spending package for the balance of the fiscal year.  This omnibus bill would literally wrap all twelve spending bills into one massive piece of legislation.  Should that occur, we expect the FAA will secure a funding increase that will also include bill language requiring funding of contract towers and prohibiting the development of unauthorized user fees.

Of course, the biggest decision is whether or not to move such a package.  At this writing it appears House Republicans are divided about whether to take up a full year spending package or extend government funding for a few months and revisit the issue in the new Congress.

Tax Extenders

NATA has been serving as one of the leading members of a multi-industry coalition of supporters that includes the U.S. Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers, in support of renewing a package of approximately 55 tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013.

The “extenders” of particular interest to our industry are the immediate expensing of 50% of new investments in equipment and software commonly referred to as “bonus depreciation” and its small business counterpart known as Section 179 expensing.

The House and Senate have approached the issue in different manners.  The Senate Finance Committee approved a two-year extenders package that included bonus depreciation and Section 179.  The full House approved a series of bills making certain extenders permanent changes in tax law, including both Bonus and Section 179.

Similar to the appropriations situation, the fate of extenders remains fluid.  While it is doubtful that the House approach will be fully accepted by the Senate Finance Committee, its chairman, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), has indicated his willingness to explore a mix of permanent and multi-year extenders.  While a failure to act this year could make filing season very problematic, there is nevertheless an ongoing discussion about the advantages of acting on extenders retroactively in the new Congress.

NATA and other coalition members are meeting with key members of the tax writing committees and the congressional leadership to coordinate efforts toward adoption of a permanent or multi-year extenders package.

Other Aviation Issues

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is taking advantage of the lame duck session to jump start its work on the FAA reauthorization.  On Tuesday the 18th the full committee will hold a hearing entitled: “FAA Reauthorization: Issues in Modernizing and Operating the Nation’s Airspace.”  In addition, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the nomination of Christopher Hart to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.  Action by the full Senate is still required before adjournment.

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