Conservatives: No TSA tax hike

Conservative groups are warning congressional budget negotiators not to increase the airline ticket fees that pay for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 

The chairmen of the respective House and Senate Budget committees, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are rumored to be considering an increase in the security fee from $2.50 per trip to $5 to raise revenue for a broader government funding deal.

The proposal has been included previous proposals to reduce the federal deficit, but airlines have resisted it, arguing it would result in higher ticket prices.

This time, conservative groups are sounding the alarm before the proposal is even made in a budget agreement.

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"A bipartisan agreement that addresses unsustainable entitlement programs, keeps spending in check, and simplifies our convoluted tax laws would certainly be welcome news," National Taxpayers Union Vice President for Communications and Policy Pete Sepp wrote this week in an op-ed on the conservative website TownHall.com.

"Unfortunately though, several media outlets are reporting that any such deal is likely to contain 'revenue raisers,' among them major increases in the fees paid to the Transportation Security Administration," Sepp continued. "This is a terrible idea that should be denied permission to leave the proverbial gate, much less to take off."

Airline passengers have been paying a security fee on their flight ticket purchases since the inception of the TSA after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The agency has become a lightning rod for conservative critics, who argue that TSA's airport security techniques, such as pat-down hand searches and X-ray scanners, violate people's civil liberties.

Sepp questioned the TSA's effectiveness in his op-ed.

"While we can all agree that transportation security is of the upmost importance, can TSA really get the job done," he wrote. "Americans deserve an answer to this question from their leaders.

"Between 2007 and 2012, TSA’s budget has increased by 18 percent with its workforce also growing by 13 percent. Over the same period of time, the number of customers being screened decreased by 75 million people or roughly 11 percent. This budget boost cannot be justified when compared to the slowing demand for its services."

Other conservative groups have joined the campaign to stop an increase in the airline security fees.

"Just last year the TSA brought in some $2.3 billion in tax revenue from both airlines and investors, an amount tallying a full 100 percent hike since its 2002 formation," American Conservative Union Chairman Stephen DeMaura wrote last week in an article on the website RedState.com.

"[The TSA] reaps around $400 million annually solely from airlines, expanding its workforce and budget but decreasing the number of passengers screened by 11 percent over the last six years," DeMaura wrote.

"Rather than hiking fees on airlines and the taxpayers who depend on their services, the politicians in Washington should be looking for meaningful ways to cut costs and empower an industry weighed down by government edicts."

Murray and Ryan have not released details of their discussions about a potential deal to fund the federal government past Jan. 15, when the current funding bill expires.

Leaders in both chambers have said the budget negotiators have not come to any firm agreements yet.

“Paul Ryan came in today and gave us an update on where they were,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday at a press conference. “I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to work this out, but there’s clearly no agreement.”

If Murray and Ryan reach a deal, federal employees — including the TSA's nearly 60,000 workers — could face another government shutdown in January.

During the last shutdown, more than 55,000 of the TSA's employees were deemed essential personnel and allowed to keep working.

Russell Berman contributed to this report.