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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Amendment to H.R. 3354 - Essential Air Service

September 6, 2017

Amendment to H.R. 3354
Essential Air Service
September 6, 2017

Mr. Chairman:

This amendment eliminates the $150 million of discretionary spending wasted on one of the least essential programs in the entire United States Government, the so-called “Essential Air Service.”  That is the program that subsidizes empty and near-empty planes to fly from small airports to regional hubs just a few hours away or less by car.

This was supposed to be a temporary program to allow local communities and airports to re-adjust to airline de-regulation in 1978.  Last year, the Essential Air Service cost a total of $298 million between direct taxpayer subsidies and fees to fly near-empty airplanes to underused airports.  $150 million of that is in our control and this amendment zeroes it out and puts it toward deficit reduction.

Actual subsidies per passenger can be over $1,000 per seat.  

Year after year, we’re promised reform, and year after year the cost goes up.

Essential Air Service flights are flown out of Merced airport, near my district in the Sierra Nevada of California.  Yet Merced is less than an hour’s drive from Fresno Airport, that offers scheduled commercial air service.  A tiny number of people in my district may use this service, but EVERY person in my district who hears about this waste of their money is outraged by it. 

Apologists for this wasteful spending tell us it is an important economic driver for these small airports – and I’m sure that’s so – whenever you give away money, the folks you’re giving it to are always better off.  But the folks you’re taking it from are always worse off to exactly the same extent.  Indeed, this has become a very lucrative business for charter companies to employ otherwise idle aircraft at taxpayer expense.

I want to emphasize that this program has nothing to do with emergency medical evacuations.  It solely subsidizes regular, scheduled, commercial service that practically nobody uses.  

If it actually had a passenger base, we wouldn’t need, in effect, to hand out wads of hundred dollar bills to the few passengers who use it. 

An airline so reckless with its funds would quickly bankrupt itself.  The same principle holds true for governments.

The Washington Post is not known as a bastion of fiscal conservatism, but I cannot improve upon an editorial a few years ago when it said,  

“Ideally, EAS would be zeroed out, and the $200 million we waste on it devoted to a truly national purpose: perhaps deficit reduction, military readiness or the social safety net.  Alas, if Congress and the White House were capable of making such choices, we probably never would have had sequestration in the first place.”

There are many tough calls in setting fiscal priorities, but this isn’t one of them.  If the House of Representatives -- where all appropriations begin – with a Republican majority pledged to stop wasting money -- can’t even agree to cut this useless program off from the trough, how does it expect to be taken seriously on the much tougher choices that lie ahead?

Indeed, this is the kindest cut of all – eliminating a temporary program established 39 years ago and that has become a poster-child for wasteful federal spending.

Our national debt has roughly doubled in eight years.  American taxpayers will pay roughly $269 billion this year just in interest costs on that debt.  If you’re an average family paying average taxes, it means about $2,200 of your taxes this year will do nothing more than RENT the money we have already spent.

Continuing to pay for this obsolete and wasteful program with money we don’t have is obscene.  It makes a mockery of any claim that we have cut spending to the bone.