- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

House Republicans are divided over a proposal to double the new federal airline ticket fee, with conservatives mounting strong opposition to the plan.
Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, proposed the fee increase in a $29.8 billion emergency appropriations bill that the panel will consider today. But Mr. Young ran into strong objections yesterday from Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas and Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, a key White House ally.
"We didn't come here to raise taxes," said a senior Republican aide.
By late afternoon, a committee source conceded that Mr. Young would be forced to withdraw the proposal. It would double the $2.50 fee paid by airline passengers per flight leg, with the maximum round-trip fee doubling from $10 to $20.
Congress approved the fee last year along with new aviation security requirements. Mr. Young sought the increase to help cover the burgeoning costs of the new Transportation Security Administration, which is already doubling the number of employees to screen luggage at 429 commercial airports.
But the airlines and their supporters in Congress attacked the proposed fee increase as a new burden on an industry that has not recovered from the September 11 terrorist attacks.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, whose district includes the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, said the industry has taken enough of a hit already.
"This is not the best time in that industry to have that kind of increase in their rates," Mr. Armey said.
Some Republicans expressed surprise that appropriators even proposed the measure, saying there was virtually no chance the House would approve what amounted to a tax increase in an election year.
"We're shooting a dead man," said one Republican aide.
But a Republican staffer on the Appropriations Committee said Mr. DeLay, Mr. Armey and other Republican leaders knew in advance of the proposal and had not objected to it.
"We briefed the leaders on it," the aide said. "They did not tell us not to do it."
The proposed fee increase was the most prominent hurdle in the emergency spending bill, which still faces opposition due to its overall cost. The White House asked Congress on March 21 for $27.3 billion in emergency spending in fiscal 2002, including $14 billion for the Pentagon to conduct the war against terrorism.
Appropriators have added $1.77 billion for the Pentagon, much of that to cover the costs of calling up reservists and National Guardsmen.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer didn't say whether President Bush would veto a more costly bill but said the president wants lawmakers "to hold the line on spending."
"We are a nation that has a deficit, and it's important for Congress to not add excessive spending to make the deficit worse," Mr. Fleischer said.
Republican leaders plan to bring the bill up for a vote in the full House next week, but Mr. Armey said the total cost should be pared down.
Many conservatives are "going to have trouble with any number over $27 [billion]," he said.


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