Congress Avoids Shutdown, Extends FAA Funding

Congress has averted a government shutdown -- for now -- by passing a temporary spending bill that funds the federal government through Dec. 11. Passed yesterday afternoon, the stopgap measure avoids a scenario that would have cost the travel industry $185 million per day, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

"The closure of 408 national parks and historic sites, plus the freezing of government travel as well as private-sector travel related to government contracts, would have resulted in the loss of more than $185 million per day in lost economic output affecting communities in every corner of the nation," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, who simultaneously expressed optimism and skepticism. "While we are grateful that the federal government has a short-term budget to open the new fiscal year, the agreement's December expiration date will loom large in our minds until our political leaders achieve a long-term plan to continue funding through 2016."

FAA Funding Passed

In similar news, Congress this week also passed a temporary spending bill funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the next six months. Without the bill, FAA funding would have expired, causing an interruption in FAA operations.

Again, the U.S. Travel Association applauded the temporary funding, but urged Congress to take longer-term action.

"The U.S. Travel community is grateful to … leaders in both chambers for ensuring that the operations of the FAA continue without interruption. But Congress as a whole needs a new approach to transportation policy. We cannot continually apply a Band-Aid to an air travel system that is hemorrhaging dollars for the U.S. economy," said Dow, who pointed out that passengers avoided 38 million trips in 2013 alone due to infrastructure-related flying hassles, costing the economy more than $35 billion. "FAA reauthorization represents an opportunity to bolster and revitalize passenger air travel in this country, but only if the measure takes a comprehensive approach to the problems in the system. A transformational bill will only live up to its name if it improves the weakest links in the system, tackling infrastructure and fostering choice for travelers by restoring air travel competition."

In June, the U.S. Travel Association presented its own plan for FAA reauthorization. It includes an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), or airport tax, that funds airport improvements, as well as the elimination of five passenger aviation taxes to offset the PFC increase: the Domestic Passenger Ticket Tax, the tax on international arrivals and departures, the Domestic Commercial Fuel Tax, the tax on mileage rewards, and the tax on flights between the continental United States and Alaska or Hawaii.

"We appreciate the dynamics at play on Capitol Hill nowadays, so we have crafted an airport modernization proposal that addresses this critical issue by coupling a tax cut on flyers with a long-overdue adjustment to the Passenger Facility Charge," Dow said. "It's the closest thing to a win-win you're going to find in Washington in this day and age. We urge Congress to give it a look when this temporary measure expires in March."

JOLT Act Advances

Finally, the Senate this week introduced the Jobs Originating through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, a bipartisan effort to create jobs by reforming the nation's Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to increase international travel to the United States.

Originally introduced in 2012 by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the JOLT Act has failed to come for a vote in the last two Congresses. If passed, supporters argue, it could attract as many as 98 million more visitors to the United States, create a million American jobs, and generate as much as $859 billion in revenue by 2020.

"The U.S. travel community unambiguously praises this legislation, which identifies and implements valuable enhancements to inbound travel from Canada, trusted traveler programs, and the Visa Waiver Program," Dow concluded. "We thank and congratulate the Senate cosponsors of the JOLT Act for working to enhance both national and economic security, and we look forward to working together to enact the JOLT Act this session."

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