House nixes amendment to cut Essential Air Service

The House late Tuesday voted down and amendment by a tea party-backed Republican from California, Tom McClintock, to slash the Essential Air Service program.

EAS provides subsidized air service to mostly rural communities across the country. Among them are Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg/Laurel in Mississippi.

It was a bipartisan vote to defeat the amendment, 238-164, with many tea party conservatives voting to kill it.

Alan Nunnelee was the only Mississippi congressman to vote for the amendment. Fellow Republicans Gregg Harper and Steven Palazzo, along with Democrat Benny Thompson, voted against the measure.

More from the Associated Press:

…. the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights to 120 communities in 35 states in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico and 43 towns in Alaska.

The vote came as the House debated a $107 billion transportation spending bill for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

Republicans controlling the House had voted to eliminate the oft-criticized program last year while they considered renewing federal aviation programs, but a coalition of Democrats and Republicans representing rural America reversed the move in the Senate.

Despite modest changes to the program enacted earlier this year, its budget now would reach a new high — to $214 million — under Tuesday’s legislation. McClintock’s amendment would have eliminated $114 million in direct taxpayer subsidies; he was blocked under House rules from attacking $100 million in subsidies automatically financed by “overflight” fees paid by aircraft that fly over the U.S. but don’t take off or land here.

Supporters of the subsidies say having access to air service is crucial to the economies of rural towns.

“This program plays a key role in the economic development in many rural communities by ensuring that air service continues,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa.

In fact, the wide reach of the program contributes to the sweeping support it gets, both from Democrats but also from conservative Republicans who suspend their anti-big government rhetoric when their districts are affected.