Videos & Speeches

We are considering at the moment the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, and I am disappointed by what we are about to do today – although at this point there appears to be no option. But this extension fails to accomplish significant and important reforms in the aviation world, and it’s something we were able to do – should have been able to do – almost accomplished, and as a result of our failure I will oppose the reauthorization legislation we will vote on in just a few moments. 

Mr. President, three weeks ago I came to the Senate floor to express my concern with what was happening. And my plea and request of our House colleagues was for them to act on the FAA Reauthorization bill as the Senate sent it to them – the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 – which in April passed the United States Senate by the unusual vote of 95 votes in favor. Broadly supported.

I serve on the Commerce Committee, Mr. President, and Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson worked hard with all of us on that committee to see that a wide variety of interests – a wide variety of opportunities were explored for us to make improvements in the world of aviation.

Mr. President, the way that it works is we have a piece of legislation that’s in effect that will soon expire, and we’re up against a deadline for that extension. But we knew that. And in fact we went to work early – the Senate Commerce Committee began hearings a long time ago – months ago. We worked hard to find consensus and we did. And our product came to the Senate floor not just with a simple reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, but with items that were so important to this country’s economy, to those who utilize general aviation, to communities who care about their local airports and to those – in my case in Kansas – who care about how many jobs we have and can continue to have and how many more we can create as a result of the manufacturing of aircrafts in the country.

So we did what we’re supposed to do in the United States Senate – we worked together, we found solutions, we found compromises and we passed legislation overwhelmingly, and unfortunately when it went to the House of Representatives, no action was taken in the House and as I say the clock is ticking and the FAA will no longer …continue to have authority – legal authority to exist. So once again – as has happened in years gone by – we are left with a “take it or leave it” situation. We either take the House-passed extension, or the FAA shuts down. No need for us to be in the position that we’re in today, and the extension that we’re going to vote on will be missing many, many important provisions included in the Senate passed bill.

My perspective on this certainly is as a Kansan, but it matters no matter what state you live in. Kansas is an aviation state. General aviation is our state’s largest industry, and our largest city is Wichita, which is appropriately known as the Air Capital of the World. Kansas aviation workers have supplied three out of every four general aviation aircraft since the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, and today some 42,000 Kansans make a living manufacturing, operating and servicing the world’s highest quality aircraft. 

So, Mr. President, what does the FAA reauthorization – the extension that we’re about to vote on – have to do with those jobs in Kansas? What does it have to do with jobs in this country? If we have a goal that we ought to be working together to achieve, it would be to create more opportunities for more Americans to have better jobs. We need – and we all know it – we need a strong manufacturing sector in this economy, and yet we will fail to take advantage of the opportunity to increase the chances of more manufacturing jobs, more general aviation jobs, more airplane manufacturing jobs in the United States. For more jobs for Americans, better jobs for Americans, more secure jobs for Americans because we aren’t able to do today – the House was unwilling to include in the extension those things that increase the chances that the aviation industry in our country can better compete with those in a global economy that are our competitors. 

What the manufacturing side of aviation needs – what aviation manufacturers in Kansas need – is the ability to compete in a global marketplace so that the industry remains our country’s number one net exporter. This requires significant reforms at the FAA – particularly in their certification process and improvements in the regulatory environment.

These provisions that are so helpful were contained not just in the Senate-passed bill but also the original House FAA bill, which was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier in the spring. So here we have a situation in which the House Transportation Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee – in fact the full Senate – approves things that matter greatly to our country and most importantly to its workers, and yet today we come to the Senate with a relatively simple extension that ignores those important reforms and improvements.

These provisions that are not included in this extension would streamline aircraft certification, significantly improving efficiency and the better focus the FAA’s valuable resources someplace else. These reforms would have had a positive impact upon our economy, on job security and job creation. 

Both the House and Senate recognized the importance of this issue and advanced nearly identical certification reform language. But as I said, for some reason that language no longer appears in this bill.

In addition to certification, there’s lots of other issues that we agreed upon among members of our committee and among members of the United States Senate – overwhelmingly popular, bipartisan provisions were included in this bill originally here in the Senate, but not included now in this simple extension – including things like strengthening our Contract Tower Program, which is so important particularly to rural communities.

Again, while I come from a state in which we manufacture planes, I also represent a state in which general aviation, our pilots, and the airports which they utilize are important to communities across my state as we again try to compete in a global economy. The ability to bring a business customer to a small community that has a manufacturing plant is dependent upon airport and air services.

The language from section 1204 of the Senate-passed bill would have significantly reformed the cost-benefit eligibility rules for contract towers – again, this is a way we provide air safety for communities that are small and have small airports – strengthening this program and providing certainty once and for all for the 253 contract towers that handle nearly one-third of our tower operations nationwide. Good idea – broadly supported – supported in the House in the Transportation Committee, supported in the Senate in the Commerce Committee and on the Senate floor, but not included in today’s simple extension.

Apparently, the reasons these important reforms were excluded was so they could, at a later date, be used as a political bargaining chip. The House held these popular reforms hostage in an attempt to gain leverage and to later promote an effort to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system.

Putting on hold these long overdue, noncontroversial certification reforms, Contract Tower Programs, and others, Congress is damaging the business aviation industry and the people who work therein.

Not too long ago I spoke on this floor defending general aviation from the Obama Administration’s repeated attempts to end the accelerated depreciation schedule for general aviation aircraft. The proposal came, in my view, as a clever political sound bite – so-called the corporate jet loophole – but in reality what it would have meant is thousands of jobs gone, the unemployment lines longer. The president’s proposal would have accomplished nothing for the economy – not even a meaningful increase in tax revenues – and only would have hurt 1.2 million Americans who make their living building and servicing airplanes.

Which makes it all the more disappointing. It is one thing for me to come to the Senate floor and complain about an Obama Administration proposal, but today I come to the Senate floor to complain about a Republican-controlled House that was unable to take advantage of an opportunity to pass a strong, long-term reauthorization bill – and instead leave us with a simple, short-term extension.

I of course, believe this fully that the leadership of my Commerce Committee – Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson – worked so hard at crafting this Senate-passed FAA bill. I am here in support of their efforts and express my disappointment that their efforts were not rewarded by the House of Representatives. I regret that because we did not have a willing partner in the House, we are left with a watered-down extension so that we can further entertain other ideas at some other point in time while uncertainty continues.

And while that uncertainty continues, the rest of the world can advance their efforts, particularly in airplane manufacturing, while we wait for improvements, efficiencies, and modernization in our own. While we wait for Congress to do its work, the rest of the world moves on, with the potential of taking away jobs from the manufacturing sector here in the United States.

Americans rightfully can expect, should expect, and do expect leadership from their officials in Washington. And at a time when this partisan dysfunction puts us in places in which we constantly find barriers in the legislative process, it sure seems to me to be a waste that this opportunity to pass meaningful bipartisan reforms and improvements that could have an immediate positive impact on our economy is foregone.

We have enough other problems around here in the way this place works. Here we had, in my view, a chance to grasp victory for the American people, for its workers, and for our economy, and we failed to do it. And in the process and as a result of that failure, the ability of American manufacturers to create jobs is diminished and Kansans are more at risk for their futures as a result of our failure to do our jobs.

Mr. President, I thank you for the opportunity of addressing my colleagues in the United States Senate, I express my dissatisfaction and disappointment with the end product, recognizing the circumstance we now find ourselves in.

And I yield the floor.