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Murray Urges Administration To Help Airline Industry Workers and Airports at Hearing

Apr 02 2003

Murray: I hope the President does not object to helping thousands of workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. . . At a time when the President has proposed $700 billion more in tax cuts, I would hope he could find it in his heart to support less than one-twentieth of one perce

(Washington, D.C.) - Today at hearing of the Senate Transportation, Treasury and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) urged the Bush Administration to support her successful amendment to offer assistance to airports and airline industry workers.

Murray's amendment to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. Murray serves as Ranking Democrat on the Transportation panel that held today's hearing.

Senator Murray's opening remarks at the hearing follow:

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for calling this very timely hearing on the condition of our aviation industry.

Our airlines, our airports and their employees are facing an immediate crisis, and they need our help. Thousands of hard-working Americans are being put out on the streets every week by the airlines or their suppliers.

At home, tens of thousands of my constituents have lost their jobs because of the downturn in air travel. Together these companies and their employees have faced the triple whammy of September 11th, a deteriorating economy, and now the war with Iraq.

It's difficult to overstate the seriousness of the crisis facing this vital part of our nation's transportation infrastructure. Some carriers are emerging from bankruptcy, others are entering it, and still others are trying desperately to avoid it. Some retired airline employees are seeing their monthly pension checks cut dramatically. And one of our nation's largest carriers is facing the very real possibility of liquidation. In just a half hour, the Senate will begin debating the War Supplemental that we marked up in the Appropriations Committee yesterday.

Yesterday during markup, I offered an amendment to increase the size of the aviation relief package from $2.8 billion to $3.5 billion. I'm pleased that my amendment was adopted, and that the full bill passed the committee on a unanimous and bipartisan basis. My amendment expanded the amount of relief provided to our airlines and addressed two gaping holes in the original proposal - the absence of assistance for our airports, and the absence of help for the workers who have suffered most during this crisis.

While our Committee was reporting the War Supplemental with $3.5 billion in overall aviation relief, the House Appropriations Committee reported its version of the Supplemental with roughly $3.2 billion in assistance.

The House Committee version, however, did not include any help for workers. The Administration's supplemental budget request included absolutely nothing for our airlines, our airports or our aviation workers. Since then, we have heard from the OMB Director and others that the Administration would not close the door on some form of aviation relief. In effect, the Administration has been doing one thing, but saying another. Unfortunately, it hasn't been clear what -- if anything -- the Bush Administration wants to do address the crisis in our aviation industry.

That was, until today. Today we read that senior Bush Administration officials think that the packages approved by the House and Senate Committees were too large and wrong-headed.

Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta is quoted in the New York Times this morning saying that our Committees' actions yesterday - quote - "show that a considerable gulf remains between Congress and the administration regarding the amount and structure of this assistance."

Commerce Secretary Don Evans was quoted in an AP story saying - "We will work with the Congress…to ensure that the airlines receive more reasonable assistance." Once again, the Bush Administration is long on rhetoric but short on detail.

Time and again, we hear that the Administration has a position, but they just won't tell the Congress or the American people what it is. Workers have lost their jobs. They're trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage this month -- but instead of offering support --this Administration is failing them

Mr. Chairman, this morning we're joined by President Bush's Under Secretary for Transportation Policy. I hope we'll find out what the Bush Administration finds "unreasonable" in the Committee's assistance package. I have carefully reviewed the Under Secretary's formal testimony, and I didn't find any answers to these questions. I found some nice multi-colored charts documenting the problem and a commitment by the Administration to continue to monitor the situation.

I hope the President does not object to helping thousands of workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

Let me put this in context.

At a time when the President has proposed $700 billion more in tax cuts, I would hope he could find it in his heart to support less than one-twentieth of one percent of that amount for laid off workers. I would remind the Administration that 10,000 aviation industry workers have gotten pink slips since the start of the Iraq War. I hope that during our questions this morning we will finally get clear answers on precisely where the Bush Administration stands on the Congressional efforts to help this industry and its workers.

Let me close with another area where the Administration can do more and that is carefully monitoring aviation safety.

Many years ago -- during the bankruptcy and liquidation of Eastern Airlines -- we learned that air carriers in difficult financial condition could be tempted to cut corners in the critical areas of maintenance and safety assurance. It is the job of Administrator Blakey to see to it that this does not happen, and it is the job of the Inspector General to make sure that Ms. Blakey is doing her job. So I look forward to asking both of them whether we should be concerned that the financial downturn in the industry could impact the overall safety of our aviation system.