Senate votes down amendment to eliminate rural flight subsidy

The Senate voted 61-38 Thursday afternoon to kill an amendment to defund a program that guarantee flights to rural airports. Sen. John McCain tried to tack the amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill during the final period of debate.

The Essential Air Service (EAS) currently subsidizes flights to and from airports that serve rural areas. The program has continued for 23 years while costing taxpayers about $200 million annually.

Over the week, senators argued passionately for and against the EAS program.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who represents a state that is mostly rural and depends on air travel for basic transportation, argued that EAS provides vital services to her constituents.

McCain and others argued that taxpayers should not be on the hook for flights for which there is little demand or which operate at a loss.

The House on Tuesday eliminated EAS from their budget plan for all states but Alaska.

The Senate's vote on the amendment was the first substantial action to occur on the Senate floor in several hours.

Senators passed the afternoon behind closed doors, hashing out last-minute deals to present final amendments on the FAA bill and to shorten the 30 hours of debate required by Senate rules prior to the final passage vote.

Earlier in the day, the Senate passed a compromise in the form of an amendment to increase flights between West Coast states and Reagan National Airport.

Following the passage of that amendment, the entire Senate voted 96-2 to bring the bill into a final period of debate.