|Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma)|
A HOLIDAY TREAT FROM CONGRESS, by Gail Collins
In honor of the coming vacation travel season, the Senate is working on a bill that would loosen the requirement that pilots take medical examinations.
Yes! I know that's been on your mind a lot, people. Next week, as you gather around the Thansgiving table, be sure to express your gratitude to Congress. If you hear a small plan buzzing overhead, drink a toast to the future, when the folks in America's cockpits may no longer be burdened with repressive, old-fashioned health monitoring...
...'The U.S. Senate has an excruciatingly difficult time doing anything, and here they're dismantling something that's been working pretty well,' complained Senator Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut.Poor naive Mr. Blumenthal thinks Republicans--the party that wakes up every morning thinking "Why bother to create something when there is so much stuff we have yet to tear down?"--actually cares about governing responsibly.
We are talking here about general aviation pilots, the men and women who fly private planes. They're currently required to get a medical exam by an F.A.A.-approved physician every five years, and then every two years once they pass 40. The pilots hatehatehate this rule...
...However, I think I speak for most of America when I say that we ought to continue being a little picky about the people we let up there.
The bill's lead sponsor, Senator James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, is a very enthusiastic 81-year-old pilot who starred in an exciting airborne adventure about five years ago, when he landed his Cessna at an airport in Texas despite A) The large "X" on the runway, indicating it was closed, and B) The construction crew working on said runway, which ran for their lives when he dropped in.
As a result, the senator had to take part in a remedial training program. This irritated him so much that he successfully sponsored the first Pilot's Bill of Rights, which makes it easier to appeal that kind of harsh, unforgiving judgment.
The Senate commerce committee is now considering Inhofe's P.B.R. 2, which would eliminate the current medical exam requirement. Instead, pilots would just write a note in their log every four years saying they'd been to a physician who said everything's fine. The bill has 69 sponsors.
Very little in the current world of Washington is that popular. You may be wondering why...
...(As Senator Inhofe reminded his colleagues), there are hundreds of thousands of private pilots, many of them rather wealthy.... "So it would be very good to join in on this," Inhofe said pointedly in a recent Senate speech. Some small-minded observers suspect he also has personal skin in the game, what with having had quadruple bypass heart surgery and all.
The bill hit a small snag on Wednesday when Democrats on the Senate commerce committee proposed that the doctors who do the new exams--who could be anyone from a dermatologist to a golfing buddy--be given a government-approved checklist of problems to look for.
They lost on a party-line vote... The real problem was apparently resistance from (Senator Inhofe)...
... Bill Nelson (D) of Florida (said they were) not arguing that a dermatologist should be off-limits as a pilot medical examiner. (They) just wanted to increase the chances that the patient would be asked if he was subject to dizzy spells.
At that moment the committee suddenly discovered it was lacking a quorum. But everyone expects the bill to rise again in triumph. "It would have been laughable except it's so serious," said Blumenthal.Yes, writing federal laws to fit your own personal needs, even if they mean eliminating public safety regulations, is serious business. Maybe Mr, Inhofe is confused and thinks his long tenure in Congress comes with a crown.
You can read Ms. Collins entire op-ed piece here