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Will the Democrats take the House? Will the Republicans retain control of the Senate? Pollsters have been trying to predict the outcome for months now. As we head into the midterm elections today, if there is anything we learned from following the polls in the 2016 Presidential election, it is that no one really knows what will happen until the results are in.
At GBTA, we are not in the business of predicting elections, but we do want to let you know what impact the election can have on business travel – regardless of who wins or loses today.
Here are three key travel-related committees to keep an eye on:
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee - Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) is currently serving his third term as Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. As one of the largest committees in Congress, it has broad jurisdiction over all modes of transportation and other aspects of our national infrastructure as well. Shuster is retiring from Congress, meaning the chair of this Committee will change regardless of the election outcome.
If the House flips, the current Democratic ranking member who would become the chair is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). Rep. DeFazio was a sponsor of the FASTER Act, which GBTA strongly supported. He does however, support raising the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). GBTA will continue to engage on these important issues as an increase in the PFC could have a significant impact on the bottom line for companies sending business travelers on the road for roughly 40 million business trips a month – most of which involve air travel.
If the Republicans remain in control of the House, there are two contenders in play to take on the chair role: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO). Past Legislative Summit attendees may remember Rep. Denham as a speaker in 2015. He has done some positive work for business travelers with his efforts around passenger rail legislation. He is facing a tough reelection campaign that he will need to win first if he wants a chance to chair the Committee though. Rep. Graves is also a past Legislative Summit speaker and a longtime champion of business travel making him a two-time GBTA Navigator Award winner. Politico reports that Graves appears to be first-in-line in this contest, but that both Congressmen have expressed a desire to push a major infrastructure package as an early priority in the next Congress.
House Homeland Security Committee – With current Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) reaching his term limit, the leadership for the House Homeland Security Committee will also change regardless of whether the House flips or not. It is not completely clear who will take over should the Republicans maintain control, but Mike Rogers (R-AL) is seen as the most likely.
If the Democrats win the House, ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) would be the next chairman. Thompson has been the top Democrat on the Committee since 2005.
Given the many security items incorporated into the recently passed FAA Reauthorization bill, the Committee will likely focus more attention on TSA oversight issues going forward including workforce and union concerns, whistleblower protections and employee misconduct. Thompson has also shown interest in the growing use of biometric technology and facial recognition by Customs Border Protection and TSA, along with what privacy concerns this technology poses.
Additionally, Politico reported that a Thompson aide has said Democrats want to examine immigration policies that have come out of the Trump Administration including the travel ban, border wall and disaster response.
Senate Commerce Committee – Sen. John Thune (R-SD), current chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, is expected to move to the role of Senate Majority Whip should the Republicans retain control of the Senate.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is expected to take on the chair role in this case. His priorities on transportation are not yet known. When it comes to aviation, he has spoken out against regulatory policies that make it harder for the airlines to do business out of concern that this typically means if airlines need to cut service, it will be to less-profitable, rural routes like his state. However, he has also been opposed to the airlines’ views on several issues including pulling air traffic control operations from the FAA and supporting language in the FAA Bill that would bar unreasonable change and cancellation fees (this ultimately was not included in the final bill). In other modes of transportation, he has long been a proponent for maintaining Amtrak’s long-distance routes and will likely be a key voice for Amtrak on this front if he becomes chair.
If the Democrats take control of the Senate, the front-runner to chair the Committee is Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are also in the mix. Sen. Kobluchar is another long-time champion of business travel and an inaugural winner of GBTA’s first Navigator Award in 2016.
GBTA will be following the election results closely as they come in Tuesday night and will monitor the changes in committee leadership as that unfolds. Travel has always been a bipartisan issue and we will continue to work closely with leaders on both sides of the aisle to ensure the voice of the business travel industry is heard.
I encourage you to help make our collective voice stronger by attending our Legislative Summit next spring and letting your members of Congress know how important business travel is to our economy.
You can also stay up-to-date on GBTA’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., Brussels and around the world by subscribing to GBTA’s bi-weekly Politics of Travel email from GBTA’s Vice President of Government Relations, Shane Downey.
Last week the Senate released its version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill – the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016. The bill, introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), would extend the agency’s authority through September of 2017.
This extension is far shorter than the six-year House bill, which was rolled out by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) last month. In addition to the length, the major difference is the Senate version would not seek to privatize air traffic control services as the House Bill did creating a point of controversy.
As in the House, the Senate version avoids a hike in passenger facility charges (PFCs) keeping fees at $4.50 per enplanement and instead authorizes an additional $400 million for the Airport Improvement Program. GBTA has long been a vocal opponent of hiking PFC fees as the business traveler already faces an overbearing burden from taxes and fees and GBTA is very concerned that they are approaching the tipping point that will ultimately push business travelers to stay at home.
There are also several areas in the Senate bill providing consumer protections to be aware of that may impact your travelers as they hit the road. The bill directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to review airlines’ decisions to delay or cancel flights, especially during weather-related events. It mandates that airlines and ticket agents disclose luggage, flight change, cancellation and seat choice fees in a standardized, easy-to-understand format.
It also requires the DOT to investigate instances in which an air carrier changed a passenger’s itinerary so the passenger was forced to depart more than three hours earlier or later, as well as cases in which a new itinerary includes more stops. Finally, it requires airlines to refund baggage fees if bags are delivered beyond a specified time frame and to refund other ancillary fees.
Also included in the Senate and the House bills is an issue very important to GBTA. Last week, GBTA thanked Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) for legislation to combat human trafficking on commercial air flights. The Stop Trafficking on Planes (STOP) Act would require training for certain airline industry employees to recognize and report suspected human trafficking to law enforcement.
Last year GBTA partnered with ECPAT, the leading anti-trafficking policy organization fighting sex tourism, to mobilize the travel industry against child exploitation in travel and to educate the travel industry about the warning signs of sex tourism and child exploitation. Unfortunately, our industry is being exploited in helping this horrific practice and GBTA believes the introduction of this language into the FAA bill will play a huge role in the travel industry’s ability to put an end to this.
The FAA Reauthorization bill is being marked up in the Senate today, but it is unclear the likelihood of whether or not it will ultimately pass through Congress. The FAA’s authority currently expires on March 31, but the House passed a short-term 3-month extension on Monday. The Senate will likely follow suit giving Congress until mid-July to agree on a more long-term bill.
GBTA will continue to closely follow events with the FAA as they unfold and keep you up to date on what aspects of it matter most to business travel.
Before we embark on what is sure to be an eventful 2015 in the business travel industry, I wanted to take a moment to both reflect on the critical advocacy issues of 2014 and let you know the next steps in the process of setting our agenda for the coming year.
Last year, both new and familiar issues kept us highly engaged as we fought against cellphones on planes, pushed back against unnecessary taxes on travelers, fought for a more efficient Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and implemented better airline customer protections.
The Legislative Symposium in June saw more than 100 GBTA members – backed up by thousands of letters, emails and district meetings from the GBTA Chapter Challenge – hit the Hill running in opposition to a potentially large increase of taxes on the business traveler. The House of Representatives unanimously agreed to GBTA’s argument and voted to stop TSA from removing the cap on charges related to the 9/11 Aviation Security Fee. In December, the Senate also voted to unanimously pass H.R. 5462, reinstating a cap on TSA security fees at $11.20 per round trip instead of the potential $30.00 tax.
Legislative Symposium 2014
While GBTA is a strong supporter of TSA’s improvement of its screening programs, GBTA has often cited the need for TSA to reform its practices in lieu of increasing taxes and fees on the traveling public. Congress agreed, passing several bills at the end of the year including the before-mentioned cap reinstatement, a bill to transform TSA’s technology acquisition processes and a bill to permanently establish the private sector advisory board – the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC). Note: GBTA has been appointed to two consecutive terms on this important Committee.
GBTA listened to you, our members, when you said that silence is golden when it comes to cell phones on airplanes. GBTA warned of the possible security threat from allowing expanded broadband access and voice calls on planes and will continue this fight with the FCC and in the halls of Congress in 2015.
Congress ended the year 2014 by passing a bill to keep the U.S. Government open for business. However, we will need to remain vigilant and vocal in opposition to using travel as a pawn in the fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security due to the President’s Executive Order on Immigration.
Tomorrow, on January 15, our Government Relations Committee will meet to finalize our policy and legislative agenda for the year as GBTA continues to advocate for the business travel industry. Among many issues, we are following hotel industry developments including limiting Wi-Fi access and variable cancellation policies and airline issues including open skies, passenger protection, increased taxes on passengers, ancillary fees and fuel surcharges. Ground transportation duty of care issues will also play a prominent role in our discussions.
Advocacy is not a destination, but a continuous journey. If there is an issue important to you, please let Shane Downey – GBTA’s Director of Public Policy, the Government Relations Committee or myself know. Many new issues will surface throughout the year and we want to ensure we are keeping you and the industry informed of the latest developments as we work on your behalf.
And, as always, thank you for your interest and support for our great industry!
*This post was also sent as an email to GBTA members.*
Last week, the Senate unanimously voted to recap security fees on airline tickets at $11.20 per round-trip ticket. The measure now sits with President Obama for his signature.
This is a huge win for travelers as it closes an unintentional loophole that was costing road warriors millions of dollars. Road warriors, who are the most frequent travelers, already bear the largest burden of TSA passenger security fees. By voting to keep the cap in place, the Senate has demonstrated its understanding that business travel strengthens the economy, creates jobs and drives economic security. Travel should be promoted.
A year ago, the fee had been $2.50 per leg of a trip, capped at $5 each direction or $10 per round trip. In December 2013, the Murray-Ryan budget deal raised the fee to $5.60 per one-way trip to help reduce the deficit.
Unintentionally, this allowed TSA to interpret the fee as applying to each leg of a flight with no cap, resulting in fees of $20 or more for those with layovers longer than four hours, especially impacting business travelers who travel multiple legs on a single trip.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), the chair of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee, introduced a bi-partisan-supported bill reinstating the cap on passenger security taxes, which unanimously passed in the House (423-0).
By unanimously passing in the Senate as well, the loophole will soon be closed. GBTA is grateful Congress understands that continued tax increases are not the answer to our nation’s security concerns. We need more efficient, less costly, risk-based screening programs and tighter fiscal controls.
This was a key part of our annual Legislative Symposium this past June. Attendees voiced their concern on the measure in meetings with their representatives and asked them to take swift action. In a fiercely divided Congress, it’s important that constituents – like you – make your voices heard. As you can see, your voice does make a difference.
Earlier this year, the Murray-Ryan budget deal boosted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security fee to a maximum of $5.60 one-way, but the TSA interpreted that to mean that the $10 limit that had previously been in place was eliminated. The bill’s authors — the chair and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee and its transportation panel — said that was never their intent. The lack of a cap on this fee could result in charges of $20 or more for complex routes.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), the chair of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee, introduced a bill reinstating the cap on passenger security taxes. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Mike McCaul (R-TX), full committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and subcommittee ranking member Cedric Richmond (D-LA) co-sponsored the bill, making it a bipartisan effort during extremely partisan times.
Yesterday, the House passed the bill to block the TSA from lifting the cap on the security fee. The measure was approved 423-0 after being debated on the floor the previous night. It was considered under suspension of the rules, a procedure for largely noncontroversial legislation that requires a two-thirds vote for passage.
This is great news! In June the attendees of GBTA's Legislative Symposium stormed Capitol Hill to raise the concern that TSA was going to remove the cap on the Transportation Security Fee. TSA had just announced their plan and the attendees hit the meetings with their Representatives and stated GBTA’s concerns with allowing this to happen. It is clear that your voice makes a difference!
GBTA now asks that the Senate take quick action to cap this fee as continued tax and fee increases are not the answer. More efficient, less costly, risk-based screening programs and tighter fiscal controls are the answer.
Road warriors strengthen the economy, create jobs and drive economic security. Travel should be promoted. GBTA is very concerned taxes and fees are approaching the tipping point that will ultimately push business travelers to stay at home.
We met last week with Representative Gus Bilirakis (R) from Florida’s 12th District, who represents the fast-growing Tampa Bay region of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Recently, Rep. Bilirakis joined Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) to co-chair the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, which includes a bi-partisan group of over 90 Congressmen.
The good news is that we have had a very good relationship with the House Travel and Tourism Caucus over the years.
Congressman Bilirakis in action. (photo from his flickr photostream)
The even better news is that in his new role, Rep. Bilirakis has pledged to do more. Rep. Bilirakis was first elected in 2006 and has been working to drive his legislative agenda, including support of business travel, Florida tourism, and for Greek-American relations. He is also an avid baseball fan (think Spring Training sites!) and is married with four children.
We shared the latest BTI forecast and made plans for future collaboration. We are happy to count Rep. Bilirakis as another champion of business travel!
Update (September 27, 4:45 p.m.) - This afternoon, the Senate passed a 2014 continuing resolution (H J Res 59) to fund the government through November 15, at an annualized post-sequester rate of $986.3 billion (almost level with FY13). The Senate's CR moved the end date to November 15 from December 15 and removed House language that would defund the Affordable Care Act.
This weekend, the House will take up the Senate CR. Some predict the House will add another ACA amendment (possibly removing health care contributions for Members and staff) to the CR and send it back to the Senate. That bill could pass in the Senate.
Media reports the House is considering a one-week CR without anomalies to avoid a partial government shutdown as negotiations continue.
More to come.
Signs point to a shutdown – how long remains to be seen. House Republican leadership staff are saying their expectation is to receive the CR from the Senate with the ACA funding in place sometime over the weekend. If they receive Sunday, they anticipate taking up the CR Monday, probably attaching an amendment repealing the ACA's individual mandate and sending it back to the Senate.
Should that occur, the Senate would need two to four days to take up the House's version, remove the individual mandate repeal, then send back to the House. At that point, its unclear what the House will do with the Senate's CR, pass it, and send it to the President.
Under that scenario, a shutdown would occur until at least the 3rd. It's still very fluid, but that's a real possibility.
As with the last time this came close, passports and visas for sure will not be processed. According to a CRS report, in 1996, "approximately 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas reportedly went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports reportedly went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines reportedly sustained millions of dollars in losses."
Obviously, travel of non-essential federal employees will be cancelled and, per an OMB shutdown memo, federal employees on temporary travel will be expected to return home. And, of course, federal contractors will cancel travel.