Sequestering the Friendly Skies

Terrance Heath

Here’s one for the “We Told You So, Republicans” file. As it turns out, when you cut government spending arbitrarily and across-the-board it can affect things that your care about and rely on. If you do a lot of flying say between Washington, DC and home, that means you can expect lots of flight delays. You can also expect Republicans to flood Twitter with complaints about the austerity they cheered for.

Air travelers reported long delays at airports on Monday as the first worker furloughs related to the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester began.

Airlines and organizations representing pilots put the blame for the delays squarely on the furloughs, while Republicans said the Federal Aviation Administration was intentionally passing the pain onto passengers to make a political statement about the sequester.

“No one likes sequestration, but FAA is ignoring authority it has and making it as painful as possible for air travelers #obamaflightdelays,” Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), tweeted on Monday morning.

The White House and Democrats defended the FAA, arguing furloughs were unavoidable at the agency given the forced spending cuts.

“Millions of Americans who fly will get their first taste of the pain of sequestration,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday on the Senate floor. “Whether traveling from Maine or Montana, they should expect a long delay for a flight.

Reid said the FAA is expecting “6,700 delayed flights this summer.”

If you’re a Republican member of Congress, that’s going to make traveling back and forth between Washington and the home district a real pain.

Anybody not see this coming? Of course not. Even Republicans in Congress saw this coming. Last month I posted about the impact of furloughs and job cuts caused by sequestration.

Layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts make the sequester a frightening prospect for workers. Besides the negative impact on the economy, this aspect of the sequester may be a death knell for one of the GOP’s favorite talking points: that government spending doesn’t create jobs.

Not only will furloughed federal and state employees will spend less money buying goods and services in the private sector, but thousands will suffer a lack of the services provided by public workers and public funding.

Air Safety – $600 million in cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration

  • More than 2,000 air traffic controllers could be furloughed at one time.
  • 15,000 could be laid off for more more than two weeks.
  • Fewer available flights and longer waits at airports are the likely result.

Naturally, Republicans are quick to blame the president. But let’s just remember how we got here.

It’s hard for anyone except the most committed conservative conspiracy theorist to think that the Obama administration actually wants the sequestration cuts to happen. Sequestration, as originally conceived, was never intended to take effect.

Now, Congress, back in 2011, also passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, about a trillion dollars of additional, arbitrary budget cuts would start to take effect this year. And by the way, the whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth. And so this was all designed to say we can’t do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter. That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration.

Unfortunately, Congress didn’t compromise. They haven’t come together and done their jobs, and so as a consequence, we’ve got these automatic, brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen Friday.

The sequestration cuts were designed to be so incredibly stupid, painful and dangerous that lawmakers would be forced to come to some kind of agreement in order to avoid them. Unfortunately, that’s not how it went down.

Thanks to Republicans, the “super committee” was pretty much guaranteed to fail.

Republicans insisted that any plan to avoid sequestration consist of spending cuts only. Revenue increases were a no-go. Just to say that they offered the White House something, Republicans tried to punt to the president the responsibility of choosing just where the cuts would get made, by giving the president the discretion to allocate the sequestration cuts as he saw fit.

Today, Senate Republicans are pushing legislation that would hand Obama a scalpel rather than a meat cleaver. The Toomey-Inhofe alternative would give the president discretion to allocate the sequester’s cut largely as he sees fit. “If the agencies had the discretion, which they ought to have, [the sequester] can be done,” one Republican senator told me. “But I’d hate to be the OMB director because it would be hard work.”

Faced with this “hard work,” the GOP turned to the White House and said, “Here, you do it.”

It’s mystifying, at first, that Republicans would be so willing to transfer so much power from the legislative branch to the excutive branch, when they so despise the guy in the White House. But what Republicans really wanted was to get President Obama to enact their agenda, without any work or get any of the blame for deep and painfulcuts that Americans don’t want, to programs that they actually like.

WaPo’s Jonathan Bernstein points out that the sequester’s cuts get us down to the same level of spending that Republicans have repeatedly voted for.

The truth is that sequestration cuts – which are significant enough already – already represent significantly lower levels of cutting spending than what House Republicans wanted. Some Tea Partiers in the House voted against them because they were not severe enough. And don’t forget: the budgets that Republicans have been voting for, year after year, promise to entirely wipe out non-defense discretionary spending over the long term. All of it.

And so, we got squestered, because that’s what Republicans wanted, their ultra-conservative base loves it, because the GOP has been taken over by a peculiar breed of right-wing anarchists.

The Republican Party has been taken over by anarchists, Tea Party extremists who do not believe in government. As University of California linguistics professor George Lakoff observed, “They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them.” Republican anarchists reject the founders’ morality, the sentiments that produced the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. These ultra conservatives don’t believe in the common good or the notion that Americans have a moral responsibility to care for each other. The Republican anarchist motto is, “I’m for me, first.” (Ayn Rand’s objectivism and glorified self-interest.)

And now we see the results. Republicans swore that sequestration would be painless. But as more Americans experience the impact of cuts and furloughs, it will prove to be anything but painless. Just look at how its playing out in air travel and the consider what might happen when:

  • 7,000 fewer FBI employees — including 1,000 — are workign each day
  • 2,100 fewer food inspections are performed by the FDA, causing plant closures and more then $400 million in lost wages
  • 540,000 fewer vaccines for the flu, hepatitis and measles are available from the CDC
  • 36,700 Bureau of Prisons staff are furloughed, increasing the likelihood of “misconduct” by inmates
  • pending immigration cases swell to 350,000, as the Executive Office for Immigration Review freezes hiring
  • 8,900 homeless persons with serious mental illness go without vital outreach, treatment and housing
  • FEMA loses over $1 billion in disaster relief funding

The list goes on, and as the consequences wear on American’s will tire of Republicans’ unwillingness to budge on taxes, and may be ticked off that Republicans would rather have all the cost of shrinking government fall on the 99 percent than raise taxes or close loopholes on the 1 percent.

For now, though, Republican obstinance has sequestered “the friendly skies.” The only question is, “For how long?” Or perhaps its “What’s next?”

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