Changes in Congress change user fee picture

August 11, 2006

Changes in Congress change user fee picture
AOPA bats .900 in backing candidates

Washington will look very different come January. For the first time since 1994, the Democrats will control the House of Representatives. They will also control the Senate, now that the Virginia race has been decided. And for the first time in history, the speaker of the House will be a woman - Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.

"This shift in power in Congress changes the picture for us on the user fee fight," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but it doesn't mean we've won the battle. "However, now we can be assured of a fair hearing from people who understand aviation and aren't beholden to the White House."

Aviation user fees are very much an idea pushed down from the Bush administration. But the power shift in the House will most likely put Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) of Minnesota in charge of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Any law to change the way the FAA is funded will have to originate in that committee. As chairman, Oberstar would control what legislation gets passed out to the full House to vote on.

Rep. Oberstar, a longtime friend to general aviation, has historically opposed corporatizing or privatizing air traffic control, and he is highly skeptical of any changes to the current, proven FAA funding system.

Jerry Costello
Jerry Costello
Peter DeFazio
Peter DeFazio

There will also be a change in the leadership of the aviation subcommittee. The two most likely contenders for that job are Representatives Peter DeFazio (D) of Oregon and Jerry Costello (D) of Illinois. AOPA has a longtime relationship with these key individuals. Both are knowledgeable about general aviation, and both have demonstrated a willingness to listen and understand the ramifications of user fees on GA.

But on the other hand, the power shift also brings to the forefront some lawmakers who have concerns about general aviation security. "We'll have more work to do to educate people about the great strides we've made in improving security, and to the minimal threat that GA represents," said Boyer.

To accomplish anything on Capitol Hill you have to have relationships with lawmakers and their staffs so that you can talk to them. It's not the kind of thing you can do with a phone call or an occasional trip into the nation's capital. Your association has a staff of professionals dedicated to building these relationships. AOPA uses its independently funded political action committee (PAC) and other tools to keep the association in the forefront of lawmakers' minds.

The association gave its support to 143 candidates this election. The party split for our contributions was 44 percent to Democrats and 56 percent to Republicans. The criterion for AOPA's support was simply based on what the candidate had done - or could do - for general aviation.

Your association did well in picking the winners - more than 90 percent of the AOPA-backed candidates were elected. When it comes time to talk about user fees, those winners will remember - and listen to our arguments.

General aviation lost a good friend who was chairman of the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. Now that the Democrats take control, the chairman of the full Commerce Committee would likely be Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia would have first choice to chair the aviation subcommittee.

"This election was a referendum, with American voters making statements about corruption, terrorism, the economy, and the war in Iraq," said Boyer. "On these broader issues, some of our members are likely unhappy with the results.

"But on the specific issue of aviation funding and user fees, we're well positioned with the people newly in power who will, at the very least, listen to us."

Updated: November 9, 2006, 6:02 p.m. EST