News Column

Lawmakers Fight to Shield Homes States From Budget Pain

March 22, 2013

Ken Newton, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

The politics of federal budget cuts includes the elbowing of lawmakers concerned not just with correcting the nation's fiscal course but making sure home-state constituents feel a minimum of pain.

Kansas has a rich aviation history, and the state's airports support 47,651 jobs and an economic impact of $10.4 billion a year. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran believes budget cuts could be better executed apart from the Federal Aviation Administration's program to staff a fuller number of air-traffic control towers.

Yet the Senate on Wednesday chose not to vote on his amendment to keep all controllers on the job.

He blamed the chamber's Democratic leadership. "I have serious concerns that we have arrived at a point where leaders in Washington care more about their own political futures than the safety and well-being of Americans," the Kansas Republican said in a statement.

Mr. Moran told senators they could keep the Contract Tower Program whole by transferring $50 million from two Department of Transportation accounts. He vowed to continue fighting for the funds after the Senate passed a measure to assure government spending through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

On Thursday, the U.S. House passed the resolution, sending it to the president's desk.

The bipartisan vote came out 318 to 109 in that body. Republican Reps. Sam Graves, who represents northern Missouri, and Lynn Jenkins, whose district includes Northeast Kansas, voted "yea" on the measure.

While Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has a significant aviation presence in her state, she pointed out the irony of Mr. Moran's position.

"As we try to shrink the government -- which every time Sen. Moran gets a chance, he wants to do it -- there is going to be some of this," the Missouri Democrat said in a conference call with reporters.

"You can't say I'm going to cut all discretionary spending to 4 percent of our total revenue, but it's not going to touch anything in my state. There's going to be some pain."

Ms. McCaskill said a list of towers set for closure has yet to be determined. She said a conversation with American Airlines officials this week revealed lack of a manned tower in Columbia, for example, would not affect the carrier's flights into that airport.

"It's not that the air controllers are not going to be covering that area. It's just going to be from where are they covering it," she said.

Mr. Graves, a pilot who co-chairs the House General Aviation caucus, said earlier this week that the FAA could seek out waste in its own programs before touching the tower staffing. He noted that the agency spends $500 million on consultants and $200 million on travel each year.

"I find it hard to believe that, when forced to make a 5 percent cut in its budget, the FAA cannot come up with better ideas than threatening to jeopardize public safety by closing towers," Mr. Graves said.

Source: (c)2013 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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