Extra fees charged by airlines, the “new normal,” are so popular that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has gotten into the game. And, bitching about these fees is equally popular, prompting the European Parliament to sound off like its members are Ryanair passengers with full bladders and no coin for the slot.
At issue is a planned $10 charge for Europeans coming to the United States. The European Parliament calls the charge unfair, saying it amounts to a new visa restriction. Enrst Strasser, a lawmaker from Austria, says that the requirements for entry under the Obama administration are even harder than they were under the previous (U.S.) government and that for us is a contradiction that we in the European Parliament cannot accept,” Austrian lawmaker Ernst Strasser told Napolitano during a special hearing with her. “We really have to insist on our European values, that European data protection laws and European civil liberties also have to be taken account of.”
Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, calls the fee reasonable, since the United States doesn’t have an agency for travel and tourism, “unlike many of your countries,” she said of the European states. The $10 fee would be used to “fund and help tourists and travelers who wish to come to the United States.” Since budgets are constrained at both federal and local levels, Napolitano feels this is a reasonable move.
The money has to come from somewhere, and if Washington has to choose between taxing Americans and taxing everyone else, who do you think wins? Napolitano may not be an elected official, but her boss sure is. There’s a pretty clear need for travel-related revenue in D.C., and the government needs to invest in promoting visits from overseas. When people cross a border to come here, that’s a net inflow of money into the United States.
Despite European objections, the numbers suggest that this isn’t a bad idea. Foreign spending in the United States has fallen for the past year, with drops becoming particularly severe last spring and continuing without reprieve. From August 2008 to August 2009, spending by visitors from other countries fell 21 percent, marking the fourth consecutive month of declines worse than 20 percent.
When it’s time to pass the hat, nobody wants to reach into his pocket.