GOP lawmakers to LaHood: Don't waive all rural airport subsidy cuts

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But House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Friday in a letter to LaHood that he should only waive airports where "geographic characteristics" make it difficult to drive to another airport within 90 miles, as the law was written. 

"Since this provision was approved by both chambers of Congress, we expect the Department of Transportation to implement the reforms and only grant a waiver to the 90-mile requirement where there is clear and substantial evidence of 'geographic characteristics' resulting in 'undue difficulty accessing' the nearest hub airport," the GOP senators wrote.

The senators also said they expect LaHood to provide "complete transparency" as he issues the waivers and requested "a full, written justification for any waivers granted as a result of this legislation."

"It is also important for us to understand the reasons the department may grant waivers, so we can consider such justifications before providing similar authority in future legislation and other programs," they wrote.

When the deal to end the FAA impasse was announced, Democrats said they expected LaHood to waive all the airport cuts, giving them the "clean" bill they had called for in negotiations of the agency's funding measure.

The partial shutdown of the FAA is estimated to have cost the federal government about $30 million per day as sales taxes on airline ticket purchases were not able to be collected. About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed during the shutdown, and transportation observers estimated another 70,000 construction workers were placed out-of-work as airport projects were stalled.

The bill passed to allow the FAA workers to return to work this month only covers the agency's funding through Sept. 16, so lawmakers will have to revisit the issue when they return from their traditional summer recess next month.