Tad DeHaven

On average, two people get on each day. The subsidy works out to $836 for each of their tickets.

“If we can’t cut this, we can’t cut anything,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who sponsored an attempt to kill the program last summer.

They can’t cut this.

McClintock’s amendment lost by 74 votes. Then he tried again this summer. And lost. Many members explained their “no” votes by saying they were unwilling to sacrifice the subsidies to airports in their districts. “It’s that old problem of concentrated benefits with diffuse costs. The benefits are lavished on a few select communities, and the costs are diffused across the entire tax base,” McClintock said afterward. The beneficiaries, he said, are the only ones who care enough to fight.

Still, McClintock says he’s holding out hope. After all, the first time he got 164 votes in favor of this cut.

This year: 166.

“We picked up two votes,” he said. “I suppose that’s progress.” He needs 218 to win.

Indeed, over the past couple of years I have noted several occasions where Republicans—including so-called “tea partiers”—voted to spare federal programs from termination. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Although I’m not a macroeconomic forecaster and thus cannot see the future, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that after budget showdown #7 in the fall we will still have big government. And, unfortunately, the situation isn’t going change after we go through additional budget showdowns in 2014.

It’s going to be Groundhog Day for a while. 

Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).