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The Week Ahead in Congress

January 31, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House is out of session for a “constituent work week.” That means they’ll be back in their districts, probably holding meetings with constituents and lobbyists, and downhill gathering where anyone can show up and ask a question. If there’s something you want to push your member of Congress on, this is the perfect week to do it. If you wait until they’re back in D.C. your opinion is more likely to end up being just another anonymous tick on a tally sheet.

The Senate, on the other hand, is in session this week. This will be their first “normal” work week of the year. First they were out of session for two weeks for two weeks for caucus retreats, then they spent all of last week negotiating Senate rules reforms (eventually agreeing on two very minor changes). This week they’re starting out with a left-over bill from the last session to authorize the Federal Aviation Administration to exist for the rest of the year. Here’s what we know about the Senate schedule so far:

[Jan. 31] Convenes: 2:00

Following any Leader remarks, the Senate will proceed to a period of morning business with senators permitted to speak therein for up to 10 minutes each. There will be no roll call votes during Monday’s session of the Senate. However, the Majority Leader hopes to reach an agreement to begin consideration of S.223, the Federal Aviation Administration Act.

This bill was abandoned last summer when Senate Dems used it as a legislative vehicle for their bill to help states pay for Medicaid and teachers’ salaries. They did that because their bill was partially paid for by closing a tax loophole that some U.S. companies use to operate tax-free in other countries. That’s technically considered a tax increases, and all bills that raise taxes must originate in the House, per the U.S. Constitution. The Senate sort of side-stepped that requirement by taking a House bill (the FAA authorization bill), gutting it, and replacing its innards with their own legislation. And that’s why we’re now debating last year’s FAA bill.

For what it’s worth, the FAA bill is somewhat substantial. It authorizes about $35 billion in budgetary authority and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] says it will create “at a minimum” 100,000 jobs through new airport infrastructure projects. The bill includes some technology modernization requirements designed to make air travel safer at busy airports, new long distance slots at airports to help service underserved regions of the country (e.g. direct flights to Reagan National from California) and new consumer protections for passengers that get stranded on the tarmac due to delays. That section requires that passengers have access to food, water, restrooms, conformable temperatures, and medical treatment in the case of substantial delays. It also includes a “right to deplane” after 3 hours on the tarmac.

We may also see the Senate respond to the events in Egypt in some way this week. Stay tuned via RSS, Facebook or Twitter.

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