WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers warned Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a letter this week against waiving cuts in subsidies for air service to 10 rural communities unless he can show it would be too difficult for residents to reach a larger airport.
White House assurances that the cuts would be waived cleared the way for Senate passage of legislation earlier this month ending a two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.
In a letter released Friday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the lawmakers requested that LaHood provide a “full, written justification” of any waivers of subsidy cuts.
The letter was signed by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the committee, and GOP Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.
A dispute between the House and Senate, in part over the subsidies, forced a partial shutdown of the FAA beginning on July 23 that caused the furlough of nearly 4,000 federal workers, halted work on more than 200 airport construction projects, and cost the government about $400 million in uncollected airline ticket taxes.
House Republicans sparked the dispute by adding a provision cutting $16.5 million in air service subsidies to a bill temporarily extending FAA’s operating authority through mid-September. Senate Democrats refused to accept the House bill, saying Republicans were breaking with precedent by including policy changes that had been agreed to in an extension bill.
The bill would eliminate subsidies for 10 communities that are less than 90 miles from a hub airport: Hagerstown; Morgantown, W.Va.; Athens, Ga.; Jamestown, N.Y.; Bradford, Pa.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Johnstown, Pa.; Franklin/Oil City, Pa.; Lancaster, Pa., and Jackson, Tenn. However, the bill also gives the transportation secretary the authority to waive the cuts if the geographic characteristics of a community would make it too difficult for residents to reach a larger airport.
The bill also eliminates subsidies for air service to Alamogordo, N.M.; Ely, Nev., and Glendive, Mont., because the subsidies average more than $1,000 per passenger.