The Lease Essential Service
Motion to Amend the THUD Appropriations Bill
House of Representatives, Committee of the Whole House
June 3, 2015
My amendment eliminates the $155 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. Not only is it still going on today, it has doubled in cost in the last four years, from $130 million in 2011 to roughly $260 million in 2015. $155 million of that is in our control and this amendment zeroes it out and puts it toward deficit reduction.
We are often told that we now have $200 per person caps on the subsidies (as if that wasn’t bad enough) – but that’s only for flights under 210 miles – it continues unlimited subsidies over that distance. Actual subsidies per passenger can be as high as $980 per ticket.
Year after year, we’re promised reform, and year after year the cost goes up and up.
By the way, Essential Air Service flights are flown out of Merced and Visalia airports, serving my district in the Sierra. Trust me, a tiny number of people actually use it, and the alternative is hardly catastrophic – Visalia and Merced are less than an hour’s drive from Fresno Air Terminal. But I can assure you that every person in my district who hears about this waste of their money is outraged by it.
It is true there are a few tiny communities in Alaska – like Kake’s 700 citizens – 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 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, it is economic drivers like this that have driven Europe’s economy right off a cliff.
Two years ago, 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 wads of hundred dollar 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 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?
This is the kindest cut of all – eliminating a temporary program established 37 years ago and that has become a poster-child for wasteful federal spending.
Our national debt has doubled in eight years. American taxpayers pay $230 billion a year just in interest costs on that debt. If you’re an average family paying average taxes, it means $2,000 of those taxes this year did 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.