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Tough spending cuts? Congress still won’t kill the Rockefeller Air Subsidy

By Michelle Malkin  •  August 2, 2011 04:38 PM

I know you fellow Tea Party terrorists don’t need any debt-ceiling theater reality checks from me. So let’s just note this one for posterity’s sake.

While Washington proclaims victory over business as usual, business as usual in Washington reigns. Congress cannot even bring itself to kill an outdated and inefficient $175 million pet plane subsidy program championed by Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller. It’s the sticking point that led to the partial shutdown of the FAA. And all those Democrats railing about the need to compromise? They’re the ones who refused. To. Compromise.

The Rockefeller Air Subsidy is known as the “Essential Air Service” program. It was meant to aid travelers in rural, “remote” areas.


Many of the “remote” communities are within a 90-minute drive of an airline hub. Among them is Athens, Ga., 82 miles from Atlanta’s airport. For more distant towns, the subsidies are often outlandish: Taxpayers subsidize anyone who flies from Ely, Nev., to Las Vegas to the tune of $3,720 per ticket.

Mica, who’d eliminate 13 communities from the program, is right on the issue.

Rep. Mica explains:

“The Essential Air Service provisions included in the extension are limited reforms that target the most indefensible of the subsidies,” Petri said. “We in Congress are trying to find a way forward on addressing our deficit and long-term debt issues, but if we can’t put an end to these extravagant subsidies, then we will never be able to rein in spending where really hard decisions are necessary. How can we justify subsidies of over $1,000 per passenger, or subsidies for communities that are located less than 90 miles from a hub airport? Should we be asked to pay, in essence, $10 per mile in one particular case for someone to avoid driving 82 miles to an airport? This is, in fact, some limited common sense reform to end the most extreme of the EAS subsidies.”

This 21st extension, H.R. 2553, maintains current funding levels for the FAA, its employees, and airports across the country through September 16, 2011. The extension also includes a common sense Essential Air Service (EAS) reform provision, which the Senate passed unanimously during Floor consideration earlier this year. This provision, which was section 420 in the Senate’s FAA bill, would limit EAS eligibility to communities that are located 90 or more miles from a large or medium hub airport. It also includes a waiver should the Secretary of Transportation determine that geographic characteristics result in undue difficulty accessing the nearest medium or large hub. This modest reform, already approved by the Senate this year, would eliminate 10 EAS communities located within 90 miles of a medium or large hub airport, resulting in $12.5 million in annual savings.

The extension also includes a pro-taxpayer cap on the EAS passenger subsidy provided by the federal government. Setting the subsidy cap at $1,000 per passenger eliminates three additional communities from the EAS program and saves an additional $4.1 million on an annual basis. The current per passenger subsidy rates for these three airports are: Ely, Nevada, $3,720; Alamogordo/Holloman AFB, New Mexico, $1,563; and Glendive, Montana, $1,358.

“Given the intransigence of the Senate, their inability to move any piece of substantive legislation, and their unwillingness to compromise, we are compelled to seek rational and modest reform in this extension,” Mica added. “We hope they will pass this extension and come to the table with a renewed sense of purpose for ensuring the safety of our aviation system and passing a long-term FAA reauthorization.”

As usual, it’s fiscally responsible Republicans getting the blame while His Royal Highness Rockefeller refuses to budge.


There’s some late-breaking movement from Reid and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood here.

Rockefeller, for his part, is sticking to his smears of fiscal reformers as hostage-takers.

Posted in: Politics