Congress Rebuffs White House Plan To Boost Airline Security Fees

White House proposal of increasing security fees by $1.5 billion or more has been rejected by lawmakers

A White House proposal to boost airline security fees by at least $1.5 billion a year is being systematically rejected by lawmakers and has virtually no chance of becoming law this year.

The latest, and most likely fatal, blow to the White House proposal is language opposing new fees in a report accompanying a Senate bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2006. The full Senate could vote on the bill any day, and there is no indication the language opposing a fee increase will be stripped out.

A congressional source speaking on the condition of anonymity said the White House proposal is "dead in the water this year."

The Senate bill funding DHS - and the accompanying report against a fee increase - was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 16. The move followed several explicit actions by the House to derail the White House proposal. The airline industry has been arguing that raising airline security fees at this time could tip financially ailing carriers into bankruptcy reorganization or liquidation. Members of Congress apparently have been listening. Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it is possible a senator could offer an amendment during floor debate favoring the increased security fees. But such an amendment probably would not be approved, she said.

The White House wants to raise the security fee on a typical one-leg ticket from $2.50 one way to $5.50. For passengers traveling multiple legs on a one-way trip, the fee would increase from the current maximum of $5.00 to $8.00. The White House estimated that fee collections would rise from $2.652 billion this year to $4.1 billion in 2006, a difference of $1.5 billion. House and Senate lawmakers examining the White House plan believe this may be a conservative estimate and say airlines and their passengers may have to pay about $1.68 billion more a year in fees.

Senate Clear In It's Rejection
The Senate bill to fund DHS is very clear about its rejection of the White House proposal. In its accompanying report (109-83), members of the Appropriations Committee said "the President's fiscal year 2006 budget proposes a legislative proposal, as a general provision to the appropriations legislation, to increase passenger aviation security fees to generate an estimated additional $1,680,000,000 in offsetting collections, which the Committee has not included."

This is the very sentiment expressed by two DHS funding bills approved by the House in May. One bill, H.R. 1817 authorized DHS funding and the other bill, H.R. 2360, appropriated the money.

The House bill authorizing the money included an amendment against the White House fee proposal that passed by a wide margin, 363-65. The amendment, now Section 519 of H.R. 1817, said "none of the funds authorized" for DHS may be "derived from an increase in security service fees. . . ."

The DHS appropriations bill approved by the House is similar. A report (109-79) accompanying the bill is very explicit. It says: "The Committee cannot support the budget request to increase passenger security fees by $3.00, raising the fee from $2.50 to $5.50 on the first leg of each flight and retain the $2.50 charge for a second leg if the passenger is connecting. While the fee increase was proposed as a General Provision in the President's fiscal year 2006 appropriations request, amending existing aviation security law falls under the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Committee. Until the authorizing Committee passes legislation to enact this fee increase, this Committee is unwilling to adopt this budget proposal."

The groundswell of congressional opposition to the White House fee proposal began with yet another committee, the House Budget Committee. It expressed its displeasure with the fee increase in a report accompanying a budget resolution capping discretionary spending.

The final blow to the White House plan will come when the full Senate approves the DHS appropriations bill.

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