It wouldn't be fair to call Transportation Security Agency officials shakedown artists, though last year they picked up more than a half-million dollars in loose change left behind at security checkpoints by harried travelers.

But if the Obama administration has its way, it would be fair to say the government will be shaking down air passengers in the future. The administration wants to triple a security fee paid by all passengers.

Since 2002 all air passengers pay the government $2.50 per one-way leg for what is known as the September 11 Security Fee. Though it generates nearly $2 billion a year, the fee covers only part of the cost of post-9/11 airport security.

Congress has denied requests by the Bush and Obama administrations to raise the fee - until now.

The congressional budget agreement, which the House could pass as soon as today, more than doubles the fee for a one-way flight to $5.60, making a round-trip flight fee $11.20. The new fee does not include an increase for connecting flights.

However, the Obama administration wants to triple that fee by 2019, eventually raising $25.9 billion over the next 10 years.

Yet only $8 billion of that take would be spent on aviation security, according to The Wall Street Journal. Instead, the lion's share would be added to general federal revenue.

Averting another government shutdown is an important task. A reasonable rise in the tax on airline passengers, via a user's fee of sorts, makes sense, too.

But adding an exorbitant load - far beyond the costs of security - to the considerable tax burden already carried by air travelers is unfair.

Last year, they paid nearly $19 billion in some 17 different fees and taxes to the federal government, according to Nick Calio, president of Airlines for America, the industry's largest trade organization. That makes those passengers among the most heavily taxed groups in the country.

Compared even to the smaller bite Congress is contemplating for air travelers, the $531,395.22 travelers left behind at TSA checkpoints last year is truly small change.

But a nickel here, a dime there does add up. The TSA plans to give the money to a worthy charity.

Given how empty his pockets are these days, maybe Uncle Sam should keep it.