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The Daily Dish

The Usual Business

The debt ceiling drama has hijacked all the attention, but it is important to remember that Congress actually has some regular, important business on its plate. For example, the farm bill is due for reauthorization. One might think that the farm bill is narrowly of interest to the agriculture sector, but it is important to the food supply, social safety net (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), rural development, university research, and other issues. As a result, it affects essentially every American.

This year there are two additional issues that arise in the farm bill reauthorization. One is climate change. National Public Radio reports: “Senate Chair Debbie Stabenow led the negotiations on the 2014 and 2018 farm bills. Stabenow announced at the start of this year that she would not be seeking reelection during the 2024 election cycle, making this farm bill her last. And she has climate on her mind. ‘One of the biggest risks for [farmers] right now relates to the climate crisis,’ Stabenow said. ‘It’s the largest conservation investment in preserving land and water that we do as a country. So it’s very important to our quality of life and hopefully we’ll be able to get the bipartisan support we need to get it done.’”

The other issue is the farm workforce, especially the large fraction of farm workers present illegally in the United States. For the past several years there has been bipartisan interest in addressing this issue with legislation that would create a pathway to legalization for current undocumented immigrants working in agricultural jobs with an eventual option to become permanent citizens; reforming the existing H-2A visa program; and requiring all agriculture employers to implement a reformed E-Verify program to make sure all workers are accounted for. So far, stand-alone legislation has not made it over the finish line.

Climate policy and immigration are controversial issues. By their very nature, they raise the specter of impediments to passage.

Other important business is the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As with the farm bill, the FAA reauthorization spans a number of issues. There are the obvious needs for technological modernization (recall the air traffic control system meltdown), workforce development (there is a growing shortage of air traffic controllers), cutting-edge issues such as the regulation of air taxis, and funds for airport improvement. The latter issue includes climate resiliency (think about how many airports are right by the water and exposed to sea-level rise), so expect controversy on that front.

There is an interesting D.C.-related issue that has arisen as well. It turns out Congress regulates directly only one airport in the United States: Reagan National Airport (DCA). Specifically, Congress limits the number of slots (ability to take-off and land planes) and requires that flights in and out of DCA be limited to a “perimeter” of 1,250 miles. Congress has allowed 20 exemptions for “beyond perimeter” flights, however. These regulations originated in 1966 as a way to control noise and support the development of nearby Dulles International Airport and were last updated in 2012.

None of these objectives is relevant now. Modern aircraft are much quieter, and Dulles and the surrounding area have blossomed. Moreover, given the enormous change in travel patterns during and since the pandemic, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to freeze in place traffic patterns from over a decade ago. New legislation would award four new flights to each of the seven airways that operate out of DCA. These would be available for use either within or beyond the perimeter, as each airline sees fit.

That seems like a step toward more competition and, thus, a good idea. Allowing competition along what are now monopoly routes can only improve service and lower prices. But it is also weak tea. Why not scrap the whole apparatus and let airlines compete on the full range of routes and fares. If it is good enough for every other airport, why not DCA?

The usual business of Congress is important business. Let us hope the debt ceiling is soon in the rearview mirror and Congress can concentrate on these matters.


Fact of the Day

Moving to a premium support model—which would provide a fixed amount of taxpayer resources per beneficiary—would lower Medicare program costs by more than $1.8 trillion over 10 years.

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