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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CASSIDY. As that reading suggests, this amendment addresses accountability for the Essential Air Service.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate agreed upon an FAA authorization after a fairly contentious debate. Chief among the issues which were resolved was a dispute over the Essential Air Service program, which provides Federal subsidies for airlines which provide flights to rural or otherwise remote airports.

While the work done by Chairman Mica and his colleagues adds several important reforms to the EAS program, a number of issues have since surfaced. Tonight, I'm offering an amendment to hopefully resolve one of those.

As currently written, the T-HUD bill funds the Essential Air Service program through a $114 million appropriation from the Airway Trust Fund and via what are called overflight fees, which are charged by the FAA to foreign aircraft using American airspace and navigation assets. In 2011, as a result of an annual increase of 17 percent to the overflight fee, the Department of Transportation estimated that the fee would bring in around $69 million in revenue for fiscal year 2013, which, when paired with the annual appropriation from the Airway Trust Fund, would provide all the money needed to operate the EAS program.

DOT, however, was wrong about their original $69 million projection. According to the President's budget and report language in this bill, the projected revenues from the overflight fees are actually $100 million. That means that when you combine $114 million appropriated in this bill plus the $100 million in revenues from the overflight fees, the EAS program has $214 million.

Now, you could ask, Is this adequate to fund the program? It certainly should be. In fiscal year 2011, before the plan began to start scaling back the program, expenditures were around $195 million. Put differently, as we've scaled back the program, we have actually increased funding by about $19 million. Only in Washington would that be a scale. I shouldn't laugh.

But that's not the only source of funding that the bill provides. It also allows the Secretary of Transportation, at his discretion, to provide more funds in case the $214 million in revenue does not cover all obligations. How is this possible? Through the authorizing language tacked onto the end of the EAS section at the bottom of page 7:

Provided further: That if the funds under this heading are insufficient to meet the costs of the essential air service program in the current fiscal year, the Secretary shall transfer such sums as may be necessary to carry out the essential air service program from any available amounts appropriated to or directly administered by the Office of the Secretary for such fiscal year.

Let me repeat: ``such sums as may be necessary to carry out the essential air service program.''

In other words, this is a blank check for the Secretary to redirect to EAS if they overrun their $214 million allowance.

I have introduced this amendment to correct this issue and enforce the fiscal discipline that I think even the strongest proponents of the program hope to see. The amendment preserves the EAS program, but forces it to live within its mean and prioritize spending to where it is most necessary and cost effective.

My amendment nullifies the Secretary's authorization language from the bill and allows the FAA to spend only the money appropriated to it through both the Airways Trust Fund and the overflight fees.

Some may oppose this and point out that the section in question does not deal with any new spending or funding, only with allowing the Secretary to direct unobligated balances. However, this perpetuates the ``use it or lose it'' mentality in the Federal Government. It should be a principle that agencies ask for and receive only the funds they absolutely need for their programs and that any unnecessary overpaid funds be returned unspent to the taxpayers. Empowering the Secretary to use unspent money on more EAS flights is a step in the wrong direction.

Under the bill as written, there will be no impetus for FAA to prioritize funds or substantially cut back on unnecessary flights if too much is spent. Any gaps in funding can simply be filled in by the Secretary at his discretion without congressional approval.

I voted last night for the McClintock amendment to phase out the EAS program, but I respect the decision of the House and the Members who voted to keep it in place. The program is going to stay; my amendment doesn't change that. However, just because someone voted not to eliminate the program does not mean they cannot vote to impose reasonable rules and limits. Simply put, spending $214 million for EAS is enough. Please keep it from going any higher and preserve the congressional power of the purse.


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