Small Iowa airports could face serious consequences under legislation before Congress that would kill all funding for the Essential Air Service program. The EAS helps subsidize major airlines to serve communities like Mason City, Ottumwa, Burlington and Fort Dodge.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says he may vote for the amendment introduced by Arizona Senator John McCain. Grassley discussed the bill with members of a delegation from Mason City-Clear Lake in Washington this week. He says he was honest about how he may vote, even though that didn’t please the delegates.

Grassley says, “You don’t get anyplace by blowing blue smoke at people and I think people expect you to be candid.” He says the ranking Republican on the committee that’s discussing the bill, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, is trying to work out a compromise with McCain that would prevent a vote on eliminating the program.

Grassley says he supports funding for EAS, but at the same time, the amendment is going to be one of several that will be looked at by voters to see if Congress got the message about cutting federal spending.

“People are expecting us to be more fiscally responsible, so if you don’t want to appear that you’ve had your head stuck in the sand on that issue, I told them don’t be surprised if you saw that I voted for the McCain amendment,” Grassley says.

Despite his possible vote against the program, Grassley says it appears there may be enough votes to save it.

He says Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has told him there are enough votes to oppose cutting the EAS program. Grassley says he’d rather have a situation where every program was cut a little bit rather than gutting entire programs.

Grassley says debate on the amendment hasn’t started yet and a lot of things can still happen before the EAS program is put to a vote.

Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City