The Clinton administration didn’t play as much hardball as it could have during the 1995 and 1996 federal shutdowns because it decided that the air traffic control system was a critical government activity.
Doing the opposite — and it definitely was a discretionary presidential decision rather than a legislated mandate — likely would have ended the shutdowns much faster because of the outcry when planes were grounded and everything from Fed Ex to business trips to honeymoons were affected. The economic damage and anger would have been immediate and intense.
The Obama White House appears to be going in a very different direction with the sequester. As this story by Matthew Wald in today’s New York Times shows, not only will the air traffic control system be included if the sequester occurs, the administration clearly is not reluctant in the slightest about making it clear that flights will be canceled or seriously delayed…or both if the sequester happens.
The article also makes it clear that a federal function that didn’t exist in 95-96 — the Transportation Security Administration and the security screenings it conducts at airports — will also be seriously affected.
This is why I keep saying that the politics of the sequester will change almost immediately after it starts. Slowdowns at U.S… airports, national parks closed one day a week, slower-than-usual tax refunds — all of which are likely to happen starting on March 1 — almost change how voters view the situation and the pressure on members of Congress to deal with it.