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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

Mr. HOEVEN. Mr. President, I rise this morning to introduce legislation. The legislation is entitled the ``Dependable Air Service Act.'' It is a very simple, straightforward solution to the issue of the furloughs of air traffic controllers, and I would like to take just a few minutes to describe it.

This is bipartisan legislation. I would like to start out by thanking my cosponsors. The lead cosponsor is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, but other cosponsors are Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Risch of Idaho, and also Senator JEAN SHAHEEN of New Hampshire. As one can see, it is bipartisan legislation. These are original cosponsors on the bill with me, and we will have more, as we are talking to others.

As I said, this is a very simple, straightforward solution to the issue we face of delays in our airports across the country because of the furloughs to air traffic controllers. What the bill does is to say to the Administrator of the FAA--the Federal Aviation Administration, Administrator Huerta--that he can use dollars within his budget, move them around as he needs to move them around, and that is what he needs to do--to move dollars around within his budget so he does not have to take $206 million out of the salary line of the air traffic controllers. He can then decide what reductions he can make in those salaries and what level of furloughs he can make to air traffic controllers but still maintain air service on an on-time basis, so we have dependable on-time air service across this country for our citizens.

Further, it provides that if for any reason the FAA Administrator, within his budget, cannot fully accomplish that, then the Secretary of Transportation, Mr. LaHood, can work with him to utilize funds within the budget of the Department of Transportation. It provides the authority, quite simply, to move the dollars around within the budget of the DOT--Department of Transportation--and gives the Secretary that authority to make sure they do not furlough more air traffic controllers than are needed to keep our air flights on time, to keep service, of course, safe and dependable so the traveling public can be assured their flights are going to be on time.

The FAA has announced they are furloughing about 1,500 air traffic controllers, which is about 10 percent of their total air traffic controller workforce. They are doing this to save $206 million of the roughly $630 million to $640 million the FAA is reducing under sequestration. They have the authority to move 2 percent of their operating budget without congressional approval, and they have the authority to move up to 5 percent of their operational budget around with congressional approval, which means coming to the Appropriations Committee and getting approval to move up to that 5 percent. But FAA Administrator Huerta has said that is not a sufficient amount to make the adjustments he needs to make within the FAA budget to address the furlough issue.

So what this bill does, quite simply, is it says: Look, you can move the dollars as you need to within your budget. You have the flexibility and the authority to do that. Do that. And if for any reason that isn't sufficient, then Secretary LaHood can backstop that through the Department of Transportation dollars.

To put this into perspective, the total budget for the Department of Transportation is $72 billion--$72 billion--and the total cuts throughout DOT, which includes the FAA, under sequestration is about $1 billion--$1 billion. The FAA is taking $637 million of that reduction. Of course, the real issue we are dealing with in terms of flight delays is that about $206 million comes out of the air traffic controller salary line. So what we are saying is: Look, make some reductions, find some economies, do what you can within the air traffic controller line, just as you are doing across the budget. We should all be doing that because the Federal Government has a huge deficit. We have a huge debt. We have to find ways to reduce spending. So we are all in this together and we have to find sensible, commonsense ways to minimize the impact to the public. We have to, with that approach, find savings. So find the savings you can in terms of how many air traffic controllers you can truly furlough and then move the dollars you have to in order to be sure we do not impact the traveling public.

Again, this is a bipartisan bill. This is a simple--straightforward solution to the issue, and we need to do it. We need to do it.

On Monday, reports were there were 1,200 flights delayed across the country. At airports in New York, in Dallas, and in Los Angeles, some of those flights were up to several hours. What the FAA has indicated is that up to 6,700 flights a day out of the roughly 23,000-plus flights a day may be delayed because of these air traffic controller furloughs.

There is no reason for that. So I want the public to know we are putting forth a simple, straightforward bipartisan solution that still saves the dollars we need to save but gives the simple, straightforward flexibility that is necessary--both within FAA and DOT, if necessary--to make the adjustments, to make sure those flights are on time for the traveling public.

I called Secretary LaHood yesterday. I said: What do you think? He said: I think that will work fine. Great. Let's work together. Let's do it.

We talked to the airlines association. We talked to the FAA Administrator and said: What do you think? The air traffic controllers union: What do you think? They all seemed to say: Commonsense, simple, straightforward. Let's do it.

Let's make sure we solve problems for the American public. They need to know that not only are their flights safe, they need to know they are dependable. They need to know when they show up at the airport that airplane is going to leave when they expect it to leave. It is important for our families, it is important for our businesses, it is important for the economy of this country, and it is easily solved. So let's do it.

I ask my colleagues to join me in this legislation.

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