By Melanie Zanona - 05/25/16 04:43 PM EDT
The top senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee are calling on their House counterparts to take up a Senate-passed reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) amid growing concerns over airport security.
The Senate easily approved legislation last month that extends legal authority for FAA programs through fiscal 2017. The measure also ramps up airport security and helps expedite the screening process.
The FAA’s current legal authority expires July 15, and Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have expressed strong opposition to another short-term extension.
Their FAA bill “provides a bipartisan blueprint that could garner similar support in the House,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe expeditious House passage of the Senate bill or a similar measure provides the only viable opportunity this year to deliver a bill to the president.”
A confluence of events is adding further pressure on the House to act. In addition to long airport lines around the country, there is increasing concern about airport security following the bombing of a Belgian airport in March and a recently downed EgyptAir plane that may have been felled by terrorism.
The Senate’s FAA measure includes language that would spur enrollment in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck program, increase the presence of bomb-sniffing dogs in airports, strengthen the airport employee vetting process and allow the TSA to donate unneeded screening equipment to foreign airports that have direct flights to the United States.
“Given the timely security and safety issues addressed in the bill, time is of the essence,” Thune and Nelson wrote.
But House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has not yet signaled if he will take up the Senate bill, try to move a short-term patch or continue pushing his own version of the measure — which contains a controversial proposal to separate the nation’s air traffic control system from the FAA.
Democrats, GOP appropriators and tax-writers alike have lamented Shuster’s privatization plans.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the House panel, said in a Wednesday statement he agrees with Thune’s and Nelson’s letter.
“We could pass comprehensive legislation with broad bipartisan support today if the Republicans drop their divisive scheme to privatize air traffic control,” he said. “Time is running short and we should not delay action any further.”