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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Essential Air Service

July 30, 2013

Congressman McClintock delivered the following remarks on the House floor in support of his amendment to the Transportation Appropriations bill to eliminate funding for the "Essential Air Service" program.   The amendment was not adopted.

Essential Air Service
House Chamber, Washington, D.C.
July 30, 2013

Mr. Chairman:

    Recently, the much-maligned sequester required a four percent cut in the FAA budget, whose bureaucrats immediately translated it into a 40 percent flight delay until the public rebelled.

    The total sequester cut to the FAA was roughly $636 million and they took that out on the travelling public.

    And yet, they had $243 million to pay for empty and near-empty flights from selected airports in tiny communities under a program that is laughingly called “Essential Air Service.”  It is in fact, about the least essential air service possible.

    Since we last visited this issue, the FAA reauthorization bill made some minor reforms to the program.  For example, we are no longer subsidizing air travel from communities that are within a 90 mile radius of a major airport and the per passenger subsidy has been capped at $1,000 per passenger.

    These minor reforms mean that one airport in Ely, Nevada has been dropped from the program and two more are about to be.  That’s a start, but still no excuse for shoveling another $216 million at this program.

    In other words, in this austere age of sequestration, when the White House is shuttered to the public and soldiers are being told to pay for their own Internet access, the House of Representatives proposes at best a token reduction in this wasteful, unfair and outdated program while cutting REAL essential air services like air traffic control.

    With all due respect, what in the world are we thinking?  

    Remember, this was supposed to be a temporary program when we deregulated commercial aviation.  It was supposed to last a few years to give rural communities a chance to adjust.  That was 35 years ago.   

     It is true there are a few tiny communities in Alaska – like Kake’s 700 hearty souls – that have no highway connections to hub airports, but they have plenty of alternatives.  In the case of Kake, they enjoy year-round ferry service to Juneau.  In addition, Alaska is well served by a thriving general aviation market and the ubiquitous bush pilot.  Rural life has both great advantages and great disadvantages, and it is not the job of hardworking taxpayers who chose to live elsewhere to level out the differences.

    Apologists for this wasteful spending tell us it is an important economic driver for these small towns – 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, it is economic drivers like this that have driven Europe’s economy right off a cliff.

    Last year, one member rushed to the microphones to suggest this was essential for emergency medical evacuations.  It has nothing to do with that.  This program 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 $1,000 bills to the few passengers who use it, would we?  

    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 a recent editorial 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?