Washington ways: Mr. Chairman and ‘the other body’

Washington ways, a long-running series: Jim Oberstar, JLO-2-Bike1.jpgchairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and formerly chairman of its aviation subcommittee, is often called ‘Mr. Aviation’ or ‘Mr. Chairman’ in Washington. That’s a sobriquet he inherited from Norm Mineta, the former chairman who later went on to become transportation secretary. Oberstar’s served on the committee and its predecessors since he was elected in 1974 as a Democrat from Minnesota, and in fact served as the panel’s clerk from the 1960s, before he was elected.
So Washington listens when he speaks, which is sometimes in French, a language he studied in college, or Spanish, which he knows, or Slovenian, the language of his ancestors. The other day, Mr Chairman went to the International Aviation Club of Washington to talk. He called on the Senate to act on the FAA reauthorisation and funding bill that the House has already passed. But in Washington ways, he didn’t actually use the word Senate. “We have a good bill, and it’s time to get some action moving in the other body,” he said, referring to the Senate as members of the lower House traditionally refer to the Senate.

The House passed a four-year FAA bill on 20 September, and Oberstar told the club that “I had hoped to be in conference with the other body by now” to iron out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the bill. But the ‘other body’, has yet to schedule action on the $68-billion, four-year bill and Congress has instead had to pass short-term renewals to keep the agency running. Oberstar was not optimistic: “they can’t pass a prayer over there in the Senate,” he quipped, breaking the rule and actually mentioning the ‘other body’ by name.

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