Congressman: 'Private' Relationship With Airline Lobbyist Doesn't Influence Handling of Aviation Bill

Rep. Bill Shuster says no stakeholder gets favor in airline legislation.

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster said that his "personal, private relationship" with an airline lobbyist will not influence his work in drafting an aviation bill.

Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said that he has been "very transparent" and gone "above and beyond" what House rules require in disclosing his relationship with an executive at Airlines for America, the lobbying group representing major domestic airlines. Speaking at a National Journal LIVE event, Shuster said there would be no favors for A4A when his committee crafts a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. He also said he would not recuse himself from the process.

Shuster's panel is charged with a bill to reauthorize funding for FAA, legislation that broadly affects the commercial air travel—and is the subject of a political scrap among airlines, airports, consumer advocates, and other stakeholders.

"I've got a lot of stakeholders, and I can guarantee you that everyone's going to walk away and say, 'This is pretty good, but not perfect,'" Shuster said. "This is not going to be about one stakeholder; this is about how you get all those stakeholders together."

"I know a lot of people in this town who are lobbyists, and I think we can do things professionally," he added.

Shuster earlier this month acknowledged that he was in a relationship with Shelley Rubino, the vice president for global government affairs at Airlines for America. He has denied that the relationship has influenced his decision-making and drafted a document saying that Rubino could not directly lobby him.

Politico subsequently reported that Shuster "muscled through" a bill last year that would allow airlines to advertise the base price of tickets without fees or taxes, a priority for the airline-industry group. The wife of Shuster's chief of staff is also an executive at the lobbying group, and the staffer in charge of the Transportation Committee's aviation panel used to work for A4A.

The FAA authorization legislation expires at the end of the fiscal year, and Shuster has pushed for a longer-term bill, rather than the short-term extensions that have been standard. The committee is still in the early stages of crafting a bill, Shuster said, holding bipartisan meetings with stakeholders to gather input on priorities.

Speaking Tuesday, Shuster also said he's working on a wide-ranging FAA bill that will touch on manufacturing, efficiency, unmanned aircraft, and the air-traffic-control system.

"We are losing our lead in the world," Shuster said. "I believe we need to do something transformational. We cannot let the rest of the world move faster than us."