Senate thwarts Moran’s relentless bid to protect ATC towers

March 21, 2013

Editor’s note: The FAA on March 22 named the 149 federal contract towers that will begin closing April 7.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) raised the stakes throughout this week’s debate on the continuing resolution for the federal budget in a bid to reduce sequestration’s impact on aviation. On several occasions Moran insisted on delaying Senate action on the budget resolution unless the Senate voted on his amendment to preserve the Contract Tower Program, a target of cuts.

Moran, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a General Aviation Caucus member, on several occasions objected to calls for unanimous consent to shorten debate on the budget measure—from the full 60 hours of debate on cloture and passage—because his amendment had not received a floor vote. 

Moran’s amendment, which AOPA considers a “logical solution” to the proposed cuts, would have tapped $50 million in unobligated FAA research and capital funds for contract tower funding. The sum was “based on FAA Administrator (Michael) Huerta’s statement when testifying to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he stated that the FAA’s plan to close 173 contract towers on April 7, 2013 will save up to $50 million,” Moran said.

Speaking to a group of more than 100 pilots at an AOPA Pilot Town Hall on March 21 at DuPage Airport outside of Chicago, AOPA President Craig Fuller said the closure of contract towers—including the tower at DuPage—will have a serious impact on general aviation. Fuller praised Moran’s effort, and placed the blame for the FAA’s decision squarely on the White House.

“This is nothing short of a policy assault by White House officials who stood in the way this week of a bipartisan solution, keeping the good work of Senator Moran from even coming to a vote ... all for the purpose of imposing a degree of pain through budget cuts.”

Seven air traffic control towers in Kansas are funded through the program that operates non-federal control towers.

For Moran, the action marked a new push in his long-standing, vigorous defense of GA. Previously, he responded to Obama administration officials who have claimed during the budget deadlock with Congress that operators of business aircraft enjoy tax “loopholes” through aircraft depreciation schedules.

Moran had urged colleagues in both parties to co-sponsor his amendment, and they responded. In a news release after Senate leadership blocked a vote on his amendment, Moran said that the amendment had the bipartisan co-sponsorship of 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans.  

“I’ve not found a senator who’s not supportive of my amendment,” Moran said on the Senate floor during debate on March 20. He said that contrary to criticism of his actions, House leadership had signaled no objection to taking up the amendment if it passed on the Senate floor.

Politico reported March 20, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would not allow a roll-call vote on Moran’s plan and other amendments as the Senate moved toward a vote on a budget resolution, which was subsequently passed without Moran’s amendment. 

“The White House does not understand the consequences of these actions, or they do and they simply do not care,” Fuller said March 21. “Either way, this approach is dangerous and should not stand.”

Moran lamented that once a program disappears, it is difficult to restore it through the appropriations process. 

"The real issue here … is about the safety of Americans," he said. "If it’s true that the reason this amendment is not being considered is because we want to prove a point that there is no money to be cut—that sequestration is a bad idea … then it’s a very dangerous way to try to prove a point."

“Senator Moran’s relentless efforts on behalf of public safety and general aviation are laudable,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “We know that there are no guarantees that Senate leadership accepts every amendment offered to a bill. However, Senator Moran was persistent and tenacious—by getting a bipartisan list of 26 co-sponsors on his amendment and taking to the Senate floor to voice his objections on multiple occasions—to keep the impacted towers open.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.