Politics

Thank President Obama for those airline delays

Thank President Obama for those airline delays

The latest installment of the Sequester Terror involves furloughs for air traffic controllers, which has led to some uncomfortably long waits at airports.  The Wall Street Journal makes it clear that President Barack Obama is responsible for this:

This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began furloughing each of its air-traffic controllers for one day out of every 10 to achieve roughly $600 million in savings this fiscal year. The White House dubiously claims that the furloughs are required by the sequester spending cuts enacted in 2011.

Capitol Hill Republicans say the White House is free to make other cuts instead. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster suggests the FAA first take a whack at the $500 million it’s spending on consultants, or perhaps the $325 million it blows on supplies and travel.

In case there’s any doubt about the President’s ability to prioritize, at least two GOP Senators, Jerry Moran and Roy Blunt, have written bills to clarify Mr. Obama’s authority to make sensible spending decisions. He’s not interested, and Senate Democrats have blocked such reforms. Making smart choices about federal sending would spoil the fun of creating flight delays and then blaming Republicans.

So this week the FAA has managed to turn the first stages of a 5% budget cut into hours of delays at the nation’s airports. The furloughs are landing on air-traffic controllers as much as they are on less vital FAA jobs. Officials at the Department of Transportation, the FAA’s parent bureaucracy, say it would be bad for morale to impose heavier furloughs on the employees who don’t direct airplanes. DOT has also ruled out any reductions in the FAA workforce to achieve the needed savings, along with most other obvious options that a private business would explore.

Well, I suppose a bit of bad morale among airline passengers is a small price to pay for avoiding bad morale among FAA bureaucrats.  God forbid the government start dealing with reduced spending the way a private corporation would, rather than throwing temper tantrums, and punishing the public with its time-honored “Firemen First” strategy of protecting bureaucratic flab while sacrificing muscle and bone.  Not to mention that sequestration only happened because the Democrats are absolutely intransigent on the matter of spending restraint without tax increases.

Among the other items preserved while air-traffic controllers were furloughed: a $474 million grant to “make communities more livable and sustainable,” and a “Women in Transportation History online exhibit.”

The Detroit News notes that “legal opinions written by solicitors general who served the Clinton and Dubya Bush administrations argued that the current administration has more leeway than it admits.”

The FAA should be able to “pick and choose how to reduce spending within the air traffic organization activity so as to minimize the adverse effects of sequestration on the FAA’s core mission priorities,” wrote ex-Clinton counsel Seth Waxman. Ben Hirst, Delta’s general counsel, cited the bipartisan memeos as evidence the “FAA does not need to resort to furloughs to meet the requirements of sequestration.”

Former FAA official Scott Brenner also expressed frustration with the White House strategy, telling Fox News that American air travel is “one our country’s great assets, yet we have government trying to get in the way to prove a point?”

There is some dispute over exactly how bad the “sequester delays” have been thus far.  Obviously, it’s not much comfort to be told that overall performance is holding up fairly well if your flight was delayed for hours or canceled.  However, another post at the Wall Street Journal reminds us that the system has not been tested with serious weather challenges since the furloughs began, and that’s when the air-traffic control network experiences its heaviest stress load.  The FAA has estimated that up to a third of airline passengers would end up facing delays, but the experience thus far seems considerably less chaotic.

Let us once again pause to admire the awesome power of this most special 1.8 percent of government spending.  Lost in a raging blizzard of $3.7 real and imaginary dollars blowing out of Washington, this particular $85 billion is portrayed by the architects of the Sequester Terror as the handful of magic beans that makes the whole damn beanstalk grow unto the heavens.  Somehow services we took for granted when the federal government was 40 percent smaller must be sacrificed because it’s only allowed to spend $25 billion more in 2013, instead of the $68 billion it really wanted.

To their credit, the American people don’t seem to be falling for that nonsense, and they’re probably not going to find it any easier to swallow while they’re parked in front of the airport coffee shop, needlessly waiting an extra 45 minutes for a flight.

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