May 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Why there's so much Senate drama around a mostly uncontroversial aviation bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference following a Senate Democratic party policy luncheon

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Senate leadership is scrambling to figure out how to quickly pass Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization — a largely uncontroversial, nuts-and-bolts bill to keep U.S. aviation safe and operating smoothly.

Why it matters: This will be one of the last must-pass bills the Senate gets before November's elections. Republicans and Democrats alike are making plays to get their pet pieces of legislation tacked on through amendments — and it's a headache for leadership up against a May 10 deadline.

  • One leadership aide described the bill as the last train leaving the station.
  • Senators are lining up to push for their amendments, with requests already in the double digits. Some are relevant to the aviation bill at hand, and others not at all.

Between the lines: Senate leadership is divided over whether to allow amendments that do not pertain to the bill. Some would be popular, but it could open a can of worms and risk the bill's passage in the House, leadership aides tell Axios.

  • "There are lots of people who have different amendments not relevant to the FAA that want to get them on," Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday. "I'm one of those, but we have to get this done in a bipartisan way."
  • Either way, it could be difficult to get agreement from senators to move forward in an expedited process — in time to get the package through both chambers by the May 10 deadline.

Zoom in: Schumer had wanted to tack on a bill that would give legal marijuana business more access to financial institutions — which he has said was blocked by Republicans.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is threatening to hold up the process if he doesn't get a vote on his legislation to compensate victims of nuclear waste exposure.
  • Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) want to include their Kids Online Safety Act.
  • There has also been a push to include crypto legislation that would regulate stablecoins. The list goes on.

What to watch: There has been particular controversy over a measure in the underlying bill that would add five new flight slots to the D.C.-area Ronald Reagan National Airport.

  • Local Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) filed an amendment to strip out the added flights, a Democratic aide told Axios.

The bottom line: The reauthorization comes with additional urgency in the face of scares about travel on commercial aircraft recently.

Go deeper