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Airline security fee proposal draws testy exchange on Capitol Hill

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY)

The White House’s proposal in its FY 2013 budget to charge passengers billions of dollars in new fees over 10 years to help fund the Department of Homeland Security’s aviation security efforts sparked a testy exchange in a congressional budget hearing on Feb. 15.

During a hearing on the FY 2013 budget proposal, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) told DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that a new “tax” on airline passengers to supplement the agency’s budget wouldn’t fly.

Napolitano was testifying at the committee in support of the White House’s FY 2013 budget. She was also slated to testify at the House Homeland Security Committee in the afternoon of Feb. 15 on the budget.

The White House’s FY 2013 budget proposal would double passenger security fees to help pay for passenger and bag security screening to $5 per trip and would increase by 50 cents in 2014, with a total of $7.50 per trip by 2018.  The fees would offset the Department of Homeland Security’s budget.

Rogers called the fees a tax, while Napolitano pointedly  --  yet quietly  --  called it “an enplanement fee.” That drew a irritated response from Rogers who said has been shooting down the idea of such a tax since 2006, when he told then-TSA Administrator Kip Hawley it wouldn’t  fly.

The White House’s budget proposal has not been met with optimism in the Republican-controlled House, where conservative representatives have said the document is aimed more at making points in the upcoming election than in funding the government.

At the same appropriations committee hearing, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, also peppered Napolitano with questions about DHS’ and ICE’s deployment of Secure Communities biometric identification sharing . Aderholt asked Napolitano why ICE hadn’t fully deployed Secure Communities in his home state of Alabama, even though it was already full-deployed by states like South Carolina and Arizona. Napolitano responded that the program is being contested in court by groups who feel it is unfair. Aderholt said the slow deployment was “political” and not because of legal difficulties.


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