During Washington budget negotiations last year, Rep. Kevin Cramer called for eliminating a federal program that provides funding to keep open rural airports his constituents depend on in rural North Dakota and Minnesota.

In a radio interview, Cramer, North Dakota’s only congressman and the GOP nominee for Senate, endorsed the elimination of the Essential Air Service.

“Eliminating the entire program makes more sense to me,” Cramer said, “than cutting bits and pieces here and there, like has been tried in the past.”

The program provides federal funds to three regional airports in North Dakota — Devils Lake, Dickinson and Jamestown — and five in Minnesota. At $14.5 million per year in grants, North Dakotans receive about 40 times more from the program than Americans on average.

Proponents of the program say it ensures commercial-passenger flights remain within reach of people living in rural areas, helping to keep small airports open and supporting local economies.

Jamestown airport manager Sam Seafeldt told the West Fargo Pioneer that “the EAS program allows flyers to avoid traveling long distances to larger airports. It also keeps ticket costs down.”

Cramer’s call to eliminate the essential air service followed President Donald Trump’s embrace of the same position in his 2017 budget. In previous years, Cramer had sought to stop piecemeal cuts to the program, raising questions about what caused him to change his position.

In June, Cramer appeared with Trump at a rally in Fargo where the congressman pledged to be with Trump “100 percent of the time.”  But in an interview on Aug. 30, Cramer said, “I’ve never been 100 percent Trump.”

Cramer’s office had not returned an email seeking clarification by publication time.

During the radio interview last year, host Rob Port condemned the airport program.

“I don’t like this program, it sure looks like a waste of taxpayer dollars to me,” he said. “I think it ought to be cut. What are your thoughts?”

Cramer admitted he had not thought deeply about the issue but committed to Trump’s position.

“I’m still sort of processing some of that,” Cramer said. “I will say this much, eliminating the entire program makes more sense to me than cutting bits and pieces here and there, like has been tried in the past.”