FAA Privatization Bill Contains Sweetheart Deal For Airline Lobby

That the House transportation committee chair is the *actual sweetheart* of an industry lobbyist is probably just a coincidence.

As Politico reported last April, there are two things that are very dear to Rep. Bill Shuster's (R-Penn.) heart.

First, as the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster is involved in "high-stakes negotiations to enact the most sweeping overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration," an ambitious plan to privatize the agency's air traffic control services

Second, there's his girlfriend, Shelley Rubino, who -- in a coincidence that's sure to startle the innocent -- happens to be "a top lobbyist" for Airlines for America (or A4A), which is "the leading U.S. airline trade association, an organization that spends millions of dollars trying to influence his panel."

Cool, cool, sounds like a pretty chill arrangement. Per Politico, Shuster has mastered the art of explaining how him literally being in bed with the airline lobby is really no big deal:

“Ms. Rubino and I have a private and personal relationship, and out of respect for her and my family, that is all I will say about that,” the 54-year-old Shuster said in a statement.

Shuster added that his office “has in place a policy that deals with personal relationships that cover my staff and myself. This was created in consultation with legal counsel and goes further than is required by the law. Under that policy, Ms. Rubino doesn’t lobby my office, including myself and my staff.”

Politico goes on to note that a spokesperson for A4A insists that Rubino "does not lobby the eighth-term lawmaker directly." Just other lawmakers. But it's all cool, don't worry about it. Rubino and Shuster definitely keep themselves from discussing their compelling mutual interest in future airline industry legislation. It probably never comes up.

But what has come up is the transportation reauthorization bill, and in the text of that bill is a valentine of sorts, from Shuster to his sweetheart. A "sweetheart deal," as they say, that Shuster probably got into the bill as a surprise for his beloved:

According to the highlighted text of the bill, A4A -- the "principal organization representing mainline air carriers" -- is going to enjoy some very special privileges that will undoubtedly have Rubino saying to Shuster, "You complete me, as well as my ambitious design to have greater control over the Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control services." Under these arrangements, A4A will have one seat on the nominating membership of the corporation created by this bill, as well as four of the 11 seats on this corporation's board of directors.

Are you still worried about Shuster and Rubino being tangled up both romantically and politically? Because it's not a thing that's bothering House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). In fact, this is the first he's heard about it: 

Really, who can say what is right or wrong in this arrangement? Maybe Shuster should have recused himself from this committee, but that wouldn't have necessarily affected the outcome of this bill, which I'll remind you lavishes "the leading U.S. airline trade association" with some very special privileges.

One thing's for sure, though. From Rubino's perspective, Shuster is a keeper!


Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.