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Posted at 01:58 PM ET, 02/09/2012

New Aviation Bill: The pork barrel lives


Planes take off and land at Washington's Reagan National Airport. (JONATHAN ERNST - REUTERS)
A year ago, it looked like a lovely bit of pork — the Essential Air Service (EAS) program — could very well be cut from the federal budget.

But despite bipartisan efforts to drive a stake into it, EAS, like Dracula, lived to fly another day.

EAS began in 1978 as a $7 million effort to give some small rural towns 10 years to keep their air service while adjusting to a free-market, deregulation era. It was to phase out or “sunset” after 10 years.

It’s now a $200 million program subsidizing passenger fares in 122 communities and, under the Federal Aviation Administration bill approved last week, there’s no longer a sunset provision.

The most Congress could come up with was to save $3 million by dropping Ely, Nev., and Alamagordo, N.M. An additional $12 million may be saved by cutting nine places where fewer than 10 (ten?) passengers get on each day, such as Show Low, Ariz., and Owensboro, Ky. (If they get a couple more passengers daily, they apparently could avoid the ax.)

Under the bill, the most that taxpayers would have to give out for needy rural fliers would be capped at $1,000 a ticket.

The free market at work, Washington style. Has anyone told the Tea Party?

Biggest winners in this fight: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.). Biggest losers: the unions, who are, under the bill, going to have a much tougher time unionizing the industry — and they are most unhappy with the Senate Democratic leadership.

By  |  01:58 PM ET, 02/09/2012

 
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