Election changes Congressional landscape

November 24, 2010

The historic shift of power in Congress following the Nov. 2 midterm elections is resulting in uncertainty for general aviation in Washington, D.C. “There has not been a shift of this size in Congress since 1948,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.

The election leaves rebuilding to be done by AOPA and other aviation organizations. “We worked really hard over the past year and a half to garner additional support for general aviation in Congress, work that led to the formation of GA caucuses in the House and the Senate,” Howerton said. “We lost 36 caucus members in the House, and while we still have a good base of supporters, now we have to start over in some respects.” Many new members of Congress are unfamiliar with general aviation and its contributions to the nation, she noted—the same situation that led to creation of the caucuses in April 2009. “Just like the members before them, they need to understand the economic footprint of general aviation, the jobs it creates, and the jobs it maintains.”

But new challenges—a shift of more than 60 Congressional seats, the $13 trillion national debt, high unemployment rates, and healthcare reform—will overshadow all Congressional action and attention. It will be extremely important for this new Congress to understand that GA contributes $150 billion annually to the economy and accounts for more than 1.2 million jobs, she said.

Increasing Howerton’s concern is a diminished political action committee (PAC) coffer, a combination of reduced contributions and the just-completed elections. “Our PAC is very important and it has given us the ability to help keep our supporters in Congress and help defeat our detractors. We need to rebuild our PAC so we have the ability to fend off any attacks on our freedom to fly.”

Seven AOPA members—all pilots— were elected to Congress: Reps. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), William Flores (R-Texas), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), and Ted Rokita (R-Ind.); and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). They will be AOPA’s first calls as the association works to rebuild the GA caucuses, Howerton said.

Six AOPA members left Congress; one retired, one ran for another office, and four were not reelected.

The House GA Caucus, which had 121 members, now has 85—14 retired or ran for other office, and 22 lost bids for reelection. In the Senate, only one of 31 caucus members was not reelected, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark).

For more information on the GA caucuses, see “ GA in the Halls of Congress” in the June 2010 AOPA Pilot.