Budget deal will cost air travelers a little more

7:56 PM, Dec 13, 2013   |    comments
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(USA Today)-- Airline tickets could get more expensive, but the Transportation Security Administration would continue to guard exit lanes at airports, under the budget deal the House approved Thursday.

The Senate could vote next week on the joint resolution, after the House voted 332-94 to approve it. The White House supported the deal for "targeted fee increases and spending cuts."

SEE ALSO: House passes two year budget deal 

Both provisions dealing with the TSA have been contentious, but one is strongly opposed by the airlines, and the other is supported by airports.

Lawmakers have long eyed the TSA's security fees added to the price of each ticket as an easy source of revenue to reduce the federal deficit, including in President Obama's budget blueprint.

The congressional budget deal would change the fees from $2.50 per leg of a connecting flight capped at $5 per trip, to a flat $5.60 each way on a trip. This would generate an estimated $12.6 billion over the next decade, which the legislation says would be deposited in the general government fund.

Airlines fought the increase, fearing that any hike in fares could discourage travel. The group Airlines for America, which represents the largest carriers, distributed air-sickness bags at Washington's Reagan National Airport after the Thanksgiving holiday, arguing the higher fees are a tax that would make passengers sick.

Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, said the group recognized that Congress had to make tough budget choices and that TSA airport staffing is important. But airlines hope lawmakers will consider more changes to overhaul how the industry is taxed and the way fees are used, she said.

"As we have said consistently, airlines and our customers are already overtaxed, and we are disappointed that fees on air travel were increased and believe those higher taxes will impact demand, jobs and our economy," Medina said.

The TSA money is part of a bipartisan deal for $85 billion in spending cuts and fees to replace looming mandatory spending cuts.

The anti-tax advocacy group Club for Growth opposed the budget proposal for trying to increase the size of government, even if it would reduce the deficit at the same time.

"As far as we're concerned, the TSA fees are just the same as any other tax increase," said Barney Keller, a club spokesman. "Saying this bill is deficit reduction is a red herring."

The other TSA provision would require the agency to continue staffing the exit lanes between arriving flights and baggage claims and shouldering the costs. The TSA staffs those slots at 155 airports - about one-third of those nationwide - but told the airports in October to take over those positions to save the agency $88 million per year amid federal spending cuts.

Some lawmakers, airports and airlines opposed the change, saying that guarding exit lanes should remain a federal responsibility.

"Ensuring TSA's continued responsibility for monitoring airport exit lanes is vital to the security of the flying public, airport employees and airline crewmembers," said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the transportation committee.

Airports opposed the move, saying it would cost them more than $100 million collectively each year. The legislation says the TSA "is responsible for monitoring passenger exit points" at the airports where the agency was staffing the slots Dec. 1.

"I am pleased that the proposed budget agreement would require TSA to continue to monitor exit lanes," said Mark M. Reis, the managing director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the 2014 board chairman of Airports Council International-North America.

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