Sen. Jim Jeffords
Sen. Ernest Hollings
Sen. Tom Daschle
Vermont's Senator Jim Jeffords announced today that he is leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent. This decision gives Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 1994. Pilot Tom Daschle of South Dakota is now the majority leader of the Senate. John McCain of Arizona must relinquish the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee to user fee opponent Ernest Hollings of South Carolina. And AOPA member Ted Stevens of Alaska will no longer chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
Jeffords' switch will profoundly affect the Bush administration legislative agenda as Democrats now control the Senate floor and determine what bills will be given hearings and votes in committee. The change in leadership will also alter the dynamics both positively and negatively of AOPA's legislative initiatives.
For example, the new chairman of the Commerce Committee, Senator Hollings, is far less disposed toward funding air traffic control through a system of user fees. But Senator Mike Crapo's AOPA-supported Backcountry Landing Strip Access Act has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the transfer of authority in this committee from bill cosponsor Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) may make it more difficult for Sen. Crapo to get the legislation passed. Last year Sen. Crapo, with help from senators Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), attached a provision to the Interior Appropriations Conference Report prohibiting federal funds from being used to close any airstrips on federal lands. This provision expires October 1, and because of the change in control, Senator Burns will no longer chair the interior appropriations subcommittee.
Another general aviation concern that may be affected by Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party is aerial fish spotting. Last year, a provision was included in the Commerce, State, and Justice Appropriations Act prohibiting the use of Department of Commerce funds for the issuance or renewal of harpoon category permits for aircraft involved in Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing. This shift in power also makes the new Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings the next in line for chairman of the commerce, state, and justice appropriations subcommittee, and it is likely he will support continuation of Senator Kerry's ban on aerial fish spotting.
AOPA will continue to follow this story and its ramifications for general aviation.