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Pro-travel issues advance from Congress and the White House

September 22, 2017

While Congress and the Trump administration often appear at odds with one another, issues important to the travel and tourism sector have recently advanced. Congress has clearly made travel security, travel modernization and tourism promotion a priority as part of its funding plan for fiscal year 2018. The White House is also looking for ways to improve and enhance infrastructure spending, an issue important to the travel and tourism industry.

As NTA has remained engaged with the U.S. federal government on its priorities, the House, the Senate and even the White House have remained responsive to the needs of the tourism sector.

In July both the House and Senate appropriations committees marked up their respective Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills for fiscal year 2018. The Senate bill proposes an increase to the Passenger Facility Charge, a fee charged by airports to passengers to fund airport infrastructure.

PFCs enable airports to fund modernization projects that can reduce congestion and enhance the overall traveling experience. PFCs are currently capped at $4.50, and the Senate bill would increase this cap to $8.50 at the point of origin. The House bill does not include this increase. It is likely, however, that airlines and others will vehemently oppose this increase during the THUD appropriations conference committee later this year.

The Trump administration’s proposed FY2018 budget, which was presented to Congress in May, included the elimination of Brand USA, a public-private partnership that was established by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009. Brand USA markets the U.S. abroad as a top travel destination and communicates U.S. visa and entry policies.

Brand USA’s federal funding comes from $10 of each $14 Electronic System for Travel Authorization fee paid by travelers entering the U.S. from Visa Waiver Program nations. These funds are then matched by private-sector contributors.

The House FY2018 bill for the Department of Homeland Security appropriations, which funds the U.S. Customs and Border Protection—and, thus, VWP—did not include funding redirected from Brand USA. This is a clear win for the industry and shows just how much Congress supports the travel and tourism sector.

On Sept. 30, the Federal Aviation Administration’s spending authority was set to expire, unless Congress passed new legislation. At press time, it appeared that the House and Senate would not be able to both pass their respective legislation and then come together for a conference committee in time to meet that deadline. It is likely that the House and Senate will pass a short-term extension for the FAA, possibly through December.

In the House, the fight is over the proposed privatization of air traffic control. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Republican from Pennsylvania, is pushing hard to get the votes to pass his bill. Action on the bill was rumored to occur in September. In the Senate, the FAA bill faces a number of obstacles, including a fight over changes to the 1,500-hour pilot training rule and limited time to consider the bill. (Senate rules make it harder than it is in the House to take up and simply pass legislation.)

Ever since President Trump’s inauguration, there has been near-constant talk of an infrastructure package coming from both Congress and the White House. While Congress failed to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, even with a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, the GOP is looking for a legislative win.

They are currently pivoting their attention towards major tax reform, something that has not been accomplished since 1986. While dialogue on infrastructure has persisted, a timeline has never been established. The administration’s proposal, though largely devoid of details, does flag repatriating corporate profits held overseas. Many have asserted that these funds should go toward infrastructure.

At the end of August, the White House held an event with the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and other senior members of the administration’s infrastructure team to brief state, local and tribal leaders on the president’s rebuilding initiative.

The current infrastructure plan begins with providing federal funding for projects that are already partially funded through local or private means. The plan will then shift to rural areas and will use the rest of the $200 billion federal funding goal to emphasize transformative infrastructure technology, such as new ways of building roads, tunnels and bridges. In the Senate, the Democrats have proposed a trillion dollar infrastructure package.

While an exact infrastructure plan and its timing remain relatively unclear, it is clear that both Congress and the White House are focused on improving and enhancing the manner in which citizens and visitors travel around the United States. These pro-travel advancements are a success for NTA, and they indicate that elected officials are aware of the importance of the tourism industry.

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