WASHINGTON DIGEST: Funds will help upgrade air traffic control system

WASHINGTON -- The House last week approved a four-year, $63.6 billion Federal Aviation Administration bill, over­coming contentious issues over which lawmakers have argued since the last bill expired in late 2007.

The bill, approved 248-169, includes funding authority for FAA's Next Generation air traffic modernization program based on GPS technology.

"This legislation will improve safety and it will improve efficiency," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

Opposition came mainly from Democrats unhappy with a provision that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

However, the bill's compromise was not as onerous to organized labor as House Republicans initially had proposed.

Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for the bill.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill on Monday.


The Senate voted 96-3 for a bill stating that members of Congress cannot profit financially from "insider information."

The bill would apply to members of Congress, their staffs and many in the executive branch.

Beyond making insider trading a crime, it would implement a 30-day public disclosure rule for most stock and other securities investments.

Lawmakers rushed to approve the bill in the wake of a November report on CBS' "60 Minutes" raised questions about investments by some members of Congress.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., argued against the bill, saying it is not needed since insider trading is already a crime.

Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the bill.

Before passage, the Senate rejected an amendment to permanently prohibit congressional earmarks.

A voluntary ban on the practice of setting aside funding for specific projects expires this year.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed the permanent ban, saying he was concerned that colleagues would "resume a very wasteful, nontransparent process which is prone to corruption and abuse."

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., argued that the ban on earmarks limits Congress' ability to govern and hands the authority over to the president.

The amendment was defeated, 49-50. It needed 60 votes to advance. Heller voted for the permanent earmark ban. Reid voted against it.


The House passed a bill that prohibits welfare recipients from using their government subsidy in strip clubs, liquor stores and casinos.

The measure, which passed 395-27, would require states to block welfare debit cards from being used in such facilities.

Proponents argued that the bill would eliminate questionable spending.

Opposition came largely from law­makers that represent poor areas. The lawmakers said some constituents rely on neighborhood liquor stores to purchase milk, bread and other food items because there are no grocery stores nearby.

Berkley, Heck and Amodei voted for the bill.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or at 202-783-1760.