- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Beware the manager’s amendment. As a warning, that might not sound very startling, but it could be all that stands between consumers and a major disruption of interstate commerce.

The Senate as early as today could bring up a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. As passed by the House, the bill contains a small provision that could hobble FedEx Express, the airborne division of delivery specialist FedEx. FedEx Express does about 85 percent of its business via air, but the new provision would make it abide - for the first time ever - by labor laws meant for ground transportation. The result could be that a dozen workers in just one key city could, by striking, ground FedEx Express to a virtual halt nationwide.

This wouldn’t merely mean a delay in the delivery of birthday presents and the like. Approximately 80 percent of all U.S. mail - all those documents and packages entrusted to the regular postal service - that is carried by air is flown by FedEx Express. The company also is the delivery system of choice for emergency medical supplies. On an average day, this includes more than 8,000 kidney dialysis systems and more than 11,000 in vitro diagnostic substances.

In an ordinary night, FedEx Express says, it delivers 3.5 million packages via 2,600 flights by 600 planes. Senators with largely rural populations should particularly consider that FedEx Express right now serves every county in the United States, many of them at a loss. Changing the rules under which it operates could make those losses unsustainable, which could make the company take away the daily lifeline it provides to some of those harder-to-reach places.

All this would be at risk if the House provision - a sop to pressure from largely ground-based UPS - remains in the bill. The good news is that as passed by the Senate Commerce Committee, the offensive provision is not included. On the other hand, the House provision was inserted without a hearing or public debate, so there is a chance that the Senate could try the same trick of adding it to the bill as part of a “manager’s amendment” of largely technical changes - again without any public discussion.

If Senate leaders do try such tactics, opposing senators would not only be justified in filibustering the bill to death, but would be derelict in their responsibilities if they didn’t.

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