Amidst the circus surrounding the looming debt ceiling deadline, there is another deadline that is coming due tonight at midnight; funding for the FAA. The Democrats in the Senate are obdurately refusing to pass either a short-term or long-term extension of the FAA reauthorization, threatening to furlough 4,000 precious union workers beginning Saturday. Their rationale? Saving Harry Reid's rural pork.
Much like highway and surface transportation expenditures, the FAA is typically funded by long-term authorization bills that allocate funding for four years at a time. The funding comes from taxes on airplane passengers, cargo, and jet fuel. However, as with the highway funding, the Democrat majorities from 2007-present have failed to pass a long-term bill. The most incompetent majority party in American history has relied upon 20 short-term extension bills to fund the FAA over the past four years. A short-term bill is their preferred method because it locks in all the wasteful spending and avoids the scrutiny that is endemic of long-term extension bills.
When Republicans took over the House, they passed a long-term bill to reauthorize the FAA until FY 2014. Not surprisingly, Democrats balked at the modest spending cuts and forced the passage of several more clean clean short-term extension. On Wednesday, the House passed another short-term extension funding the FAA through September 16 (the House must act first because the bill raises revenue) to preclude a shutdown Friday night. However, frustrated from Democrats' stubborn opposition to spending cuts, House Republicans inserted a provision that offers modest cuts to the Essential Air Service (EAS). The EAS is essentially a rural pork program that subsidizes airlines to provide service to communities where such service, due to geography and population, would otherwise be unprofitable.
The Republican bill would impose two modest, commonsense limitations on EAS funding. 1) Only communities that are at least 90 miles away from a medium or large-hub airport would qualify for the subsidy. This provision would eliminate 10 airports from the program. 2) If the average per-passenger subsidy exceeds $1,000, that community would be disqualified from the program. This provision would eliminate just three airports from the program. The long-term house bill would phase out the entire program over the next four years for all states except Alaska and Hawaii. Ironically, even the Senate Democrats contain some cuts to the EAS in their long-term bill, yet they are refusing to enact them in the stopgap measure before the Friday night deadline.
So who would force a partial government shutdown over such a commonsense reform?
There are only three airports that would be disqualified from EAS funding under the second provision of the GOP bill. One of those airports, White Pine County Airport in Ely, Nevada, enjoys a subsidy to the tune of $3,720 per passenger! Oh, and it's also in Harry Reid's state. Yes, for his urban constituents, Harry Reid wants cradle to grave socialism; for his rural constituents, he wants door to door personalized air shuttles.
The moral from this low-profile gridlock: If Democrats are willing to shut down parts of government over an airport that services a few hundred people, shouldn't we be willing to go to the brink for the future of our entire nation?