U.S. House COVID-19 aid proposal gives airlines bailout hope, but chances slim

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A $2.2 trillion draft bill for coronavirus aid unveiled by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives late on Monday gave airlines some hope for a second bailout before tens of thousands of layoffs occur on Thursday, although tough hurdles remained.

FILE PHOTO: American airlines jets made by Embraer and other manufacturers sit at gates at Washington’s Reagan National airport as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to keep airline travel at minimal levels and the U.S. economy contracts in the first quarter at its sharpest pace since the Great Recession, in Washington, U.S. April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/

“I’m hopeful. I’m not necessarily optimistic,” Chief Executive Nicholas Calio of trade group Airlines for America told “PBS NewsHour” in an interview.

Washington insiders said passage by Thursday, when an initial $25 billion that protected airline jobs through September expires, was unlikely, and the airline group did not detail the congressional action it hoped to see.

An option would be a quick standalone bill for the airlines, although senior Democratic congressional aides said that was also difficult given that many industries are seeking help.

International President of Flight Attendants-CWA Sara Nelson called the proposal, which includes $25 billion for airlines to keep workers on the payroll for another six months, “a significant and serious move in negotiations.”

“It makes agreement on a full relief bill very possible in time to save our jobs,” she said.

Between United Airlines UAL.O and American Airlines AAL.O alone, more than 30,000 employees will be furloughed on Thursday, and tens of thousands more at those airlines and others have agreed to voluntary leave as the sector battles a deep downturn in demand because of the pandemic.

Julie Hedrick, president of the union representing American Airlines’ flight attendants, called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote.

“If we are going to save the airline industry, we have to do it now,” she said.

The House bill would provide $28.3 billion for the aviation sector, including $25 billion for passenger airlines and $3 billion for cargo carriers, under the same terms as the first package in March.

The measure would provide $13.5 billion to airports as well as aid for other sectors, including $120 billion to restaurants.

It would also direct $75 million to ensure scheduled passenger air service to small communities.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney

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Texts show Ex-House speaker pushed lawmaker to pass bailout

Updated


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio lawmaker leading the charge to repeal a nuclear bailout bill was unsuccessfully pressured by the former House speaker to vote in favor of its passage, newly released records show.

In late May 2019, former House Speaker Larry Householder texted his fellow GOP colleague Rep. Dave Greenspan to ensure he had his vote for the bill that is now at the center of a $60 million federal bribery probe, according to a series of text messages released by the Ohio House on Thursday.


Federal prosecutors in July accused Householder and four others of shepherding energy company money for personal and political use as part of an effort to pass the legislation, then kill any attempt to repeal it at the polls. All five men have pleaded not guilty.



“I really need you to vote yes on HB6, it means a lot to me,” Householder wrote in the text messages released Thursday. “Can I count on you?”

The bill in question would send more than $1 billion to two Ohio nuclear plants near Cleveland and Toledo now owned by Energy Harbor, a former subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp.

It just so happened that Greenspan was sitting down for an interview with FBI agents when he received the text message from Householder, according to the criminal complaint, which identified Greenspan as “Representative 7.”


Greenspan, a Westlake Republican, responded no to Householder’s request, citing “significant challenges” with the bill.

Householder replied, “I just want

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House committee holds hearing on repeal of bailout law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The alleged corruption that led to passage of a nuclear plant bailout law and questions about whether the bailout was financially necessary demand the law’s immediate repeal and replacement, Democratic and Republican lawmakers testified Thursday.

Supporters of the energy policy contained within the law who worry a repeal throws the baby “out with the bath water” overlook the enormous problems with the law, said Rep. Laura Lanese.

“I would counter that what we have now isn’t bathwater, but mud,” Lanese told the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight, created to hear the repeal. “And once you have mud, you can’t cleanly separate the dirt from the water and still have confidence you got rid of all the dirt.”

At issue is the law passed last year and known as HB6, which would add a fee to every electricity bill in the state and direct over $150 million a year, through 2026, to the nuclear plants near Cleveland and Toledo.

The law is now at the center of a $60 million federal bribery probe that led to the ouster of former GOP House Speaker Larry Householder. Federal prosecutors in July accused Householder and four others of shepherding energy company money for personal and political use as part of an effort to pass the legislation, then kill any attempt to repeal it at the ballot.

Federal documents make clear the company was Akron-based FirstEnergy.

While FirstEnergy and its executives have denied wrongdoing and have not been criminally charged, federal investigators say the company secretly funneled millions to secure a $1 billion legislative bailout for two unprofitable Ohio nuclear plants then operated by an independently controlled subsidiary called FirstEnergy Solutions.

In addition to the corruption charges, there’s evidence that the plants didn’t need the bailout, said Lanese and fellow GOP Rep. Dave Greenspan. They noted that a FirstEnergy spinoff company announced an $800 million stock buyback in May, after the law was passed.

In addition, a portion of the bill also provided guaranteed profits for the company even if revenue dips, which could be worth $350 million to FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries, they said.

“The owner and operator of the nuclear plants has cash flow and is profitable today, months before the first cent from House Bill 6 is set to reach them,” Greenspan said.

In addition, by favoring nuclear energy over other clean energy options, the bill created winners and losers, Greenspan said.

Democratic Reps. Michael O’Brien, of Warren, and Michael Skindell, of suburban Cleveland, also testified in favor of a repeal. The effort has broad bipartisan support, including backing from Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Householder was removed from his leadership post in a unanimous vote following his arrest. He was one of the driving forces behind the energy law.

Householder remains a state lawmaker, has pleaded not guilty to a corruption charge and says he’s innocent and will fight the charge.

Newly elected House Speaker Bob Cupp and Republican committee chairperson Rep. Jim Hoops have

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House Committee Holds Hearing on Repeal of Bailout Law | Ohio News

By FARNOUSH AMIRI and ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, Report for America/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The alleged corruption that led to passage of a nuclear plant bailout law and questions about whether the bailout was financially necessary demand the law’s immediate repeal and replacement, Democratic and Republican lawmakers testified Thursday.

Supporters of the energy policy contained within the law who worry a repeal throws the baby “out with the bath water” overlook the enormous problems with the law, said Rep. Laura Lanese.

“I would counter that what we have now isn’t bathwater, but mud,” Lanese told the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight, created to hear the repeal. “And once you have mud, you can’t cleanly separate the dirt from the water and still have confidence you got rid of all the dirt.”

At issue is the law passed last year and known as HB6, which would add a fee to every electricity bill in the state and direct over $150 million a year, through 2026, to the nuclear plants near Cleveland and Toledo.

The law is now at the center of a $60 million federal bribery probe that led to the ouster of former GOP House Speaker Larry Householder. Federal prosecutors in July accused Householder and four others of shepherding energy company money for personal and political use as part of an effort to pass the legislation, then kill any attempt to repeal it at the ballot.

Federal documents make clear the company was Akron-based FirstEnergy.

While FirstEnergy and its executives have denied wrongdoing and have not been criminally charged, federal investigators say the company secretly funneled millions to secure a $1 billion legislative bailout for two unprofitable Ohio nuclear plants then operated by an independently controlled subsidiary called FirstEnergy Solutions.

In addition to the corruption charges, there’s evidence that the plants didn’t need the bailout, said Lanese and fellow GOP Rep. Dave Greenspan. They noted that a FirstEnergy spinoff company announced an $800 million stock buyback in May, after the law was passed.

In addition, a portion of the bill also provided guaranteed profits for the company even if revenue dips, which could be worth $350 million to FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries, they said.

“The owner and operator of the nuclear plants has cash flow and is profitable today, months before the first cent from House Bill 6 is set to reach them,” Greenspan said.

In addition, by favoring nuclear energy over other clean energy options, the bill created winners and losers, Greenspan said.

Democratic Reps. Michael O’Brien, of Warren, and Michael Skindell, of suburban Cleveland, also testified in favor of a repeal. The effort has broad bipartisan support, including backing from Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Householder was removed from his leadership post in a unanimous vote following his arrest. He was one of the driving forces behind the energy law.

Householder remains a state lawmaker, has pleaded not guilty to a corruption charge and says he’s innocent and will fight the charge.

Newly elected House Speaker

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House committee to hold 1st hearing on repeal of bailout law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — House lawmakers planned a Thursday hearing to begin repealing and replacing a nuclear plant bailout law now at the center of a $60 million federal bribery probe that led to the ouster of the former GOP House speaker.

Newly elected House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, created the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight to consider a GOP-backed proposal to repeal House Bill 6 and revive the law it replaced.

The repeal movement began almost as soon as federal prosecutors in July accused former speaker Rep. Larry Householder and four others of shepherding energy company money for personal and political use as part of an effort to pass the legislation, then kill any attempt to repeal it at the ballot.


Householder was removed from his leadership post in a unanimous vote following his arrest. He was one of the driving forces behind the energy law, which would add a fee to every electricity bill in the state and direct over $150 million a year, through 2026, to the nuclear plants near Cleveland and Toledo.

GOP Reps. Laura Lanese and Mark Romanchuk introduced the repeal bill on July 23 — two days after a federal affidavit outlining the allegations against Householder and the others was released.

Householder has pleaded not guilty to a corruption charge and says he’s innocent and will fight the charge.

The bailout law must be repealed not only because it “was bad policy from the start, but because we need to reassure Ohioans that their representatives, Democrat or Republican, are truly working in their interest,” Lanese said when the bill was introduced.

Cupp and Republican committee chairman Rep. Jim Hoops have promised a deliberate approach to the repeal but one which won’t replicate the hours of testimony that led to the energy bailout. Democrats want a speedy repeal and say Republicans are unnecessarily delaying the process.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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