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FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COBURN. Amendment No. 64 is an amendment by myself and Senator Begich from Alaska. It is an orphan earmark amendment where we instruct the agencies to eliminate moneys that have been sitting for 9 years or longer and have not expended it. That is close to $500 million that we could count so far, probably $1 billion. It helps the agencies. It is money we have already allocated that will never be spent, that is unaccounted for. I believe we are going to have a voice vote on it and I appreciate everybody's support of that amendment.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is an

amendment regarding Essential Air Service. The amendment of Senator McCain is to eliminate Essential Air Service, which is basically a subsidy for people who have to drive short distances--not long distances--to the airport. But we have selectively said certain people in this country can be advantaged by driving certain distances.

What this amendment as modified says is, provided the Secretary doesn't see extraneous circumstances otherwise, you have to be at 90 miles or greater to qualify for Essential Air Service. We started out with 100 and we saw there were significant difficulties that people actually had with that requirement. What we have done is taken this amendment and moved it to 90 miles. It does not affect a large number of airports but there are several within this that have minimal enplanements.

Remember, the average American drives over an hour to get to the airport now. We are saying we are not going to do it if you are driving an hour and a half, 90 miles, unless there is a circumstance where the Secretary of Transportation says otherwise, such as some particular places in West Virginia where it is tremendously mountainous and the time and distance does not meet with the average. All it does is lessen it.

Remember, in this bill we are increasing the amount of funds at a time we are going bankrupt. We are increasing the amount of funds for Essential Air Service. What we have done is a compromise to extend it to those who actually need it but also not subsidize something we should not. It affects less than 26 airports, and now less than that, now that we have modified it. I appreciate my colleagues' support on that. I think we will have actual votes on that in a minute.

AMENDMENT NO. 81

I call up amendment No. 81.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is another amendment on Essential Air Service. This amendment eliminates Essential Air Service when the average enplanements are less than 10 a day. There is no way we can afford, given our financial situation, to subsidize Essential Air Service for the airports that have less than 10 a day.

I know that is a disagreement amongst us, especially for those who are having the benefit, that have subsidy today. By the way, the subsidy is supposed to be limited to $200, but if you take what happens on many of these, it is over $400; one of them is $482 per person per subsidy on airports that have less than 10 enplanements a day. It is common sense, given the realities of where we are today, realities of a $1.68 trillion deficit projected by the White House for this year. It makes common sense we would do this.

AMENDMENT NO. 91

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to call up amendment No. 91.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the Airport Improvement Program is a needed program but what we do regularly in the Airport Improvement Program is we are incentivizing the expenditure of moneys in a way that does not recognize the priorities of this country. The way we do that is we have a cost sharing in which the Federal Government pays for 95 percent of all these programs.

What has happened, and even in my own State, we have spent money in airports that have very few landings every day. There is no commercial service but very few private planes landing. All this amendment does is it says if you are going to qualify for the AIP for airport improvement, that over the next 3 years we would take that from 95 percent down to 75 percent, which is well above the average of every other grant program that we have in the Federal Government.

It is not about trying to eliminate, it is trying to say if we are going to set priorities, what we should do is lower the amount of Federal funds so that the State or the community that wants to utilize these funds will recognize, by their having to pony up a little bit more of the money, in fact it is a legitimate thing. At 95 percent we are having all sorts of money wasted on things that are not a priority for our country given the financial situation we are in.

With that, I think I have responded in less than the time allocated to me, and I yield the remainder of my time.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have no problem at all with my senior Senator's modification to the amendment. I am going to ask to have a voice vote on this to accommodate everybody, recognizing the late hour, but I want to make a point. What Senator Leahy wants to do is great to help people. But the one question we have not asked is--and we are going to be asked to ask it all the time from here forward given where we are--is it a Federal responsibility to supply these benefits? You can't find it in the Constitution. You can't find it anywhere.

When we look at the hard decisions we are going to have to make over the next 2 years in terms of trimming both mandatory programs and discretionary programs, where we set an example that we are going to expand something that is not in our constitutional role, we are making a mistake and we are setting ourselves up for failure.

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