This was a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would have eliminated the Essential Air Services program, which subsidized airline service to rural communities. This amendment was offered to legislation authorizing annual funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. (The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has regulatory authority over all civil aviation in the United States.)
McCain urged support for his amendment: “President Reagan once stated: ‘Government programs once launched never disappear. Actually a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth.’ I do not know if President Reagan ever observed the Essential Air Service program, but it certainly fits his description….99.95 percent of all Americans--live within 120 miles of a public airport that has more than 10,000 takeoffs and landings annually. So, yes, there are some parts of America that represent the .05 percent of all Americans who live outside of 120 miles from an airport that has 10,000 takeoffs and landings….A lot of Americans will be watching the vote on this amendment. It is not the first amendment to try to cut back on spending, but it certainly is, in my view, very symbolic of whether we are serious.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) opposed the amendment: “It is easy to call this [program] wasteful if you do not understand the needs of rural communities. They do not have any other means of transportation… For the community of Adak, in the Aleutian Islands, the connection to the nearest medium hub is Anchorage. I laugh a little bit, because I want to put this truly in perspective. It is almost 1,200 miles. So if one wants to… drive to the hub, they can't do that…In order to get to here, they have to go by air or catch a boat, assuming the weather is good….To put the number in perspective, it is about the same distance from Los Angeles to Houston, except, unlike Los Angeles and Houston, there are no roads between these two places….I don't believe we should balance the federal budget on the backs of communities and people facing some of the highest costs of living and the toughest conditions in the country, and that is exactly what the McCain amendment would do.”
The Senate tabled (killed) this amendment by a vote of 61-38. Voting “yea” were 46 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 15 Republicans. 32 Republicans and 6 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have eliminated the Essential Air Services program, which subsidized airline service to rural communities.