White House to back FAA flexible-spending plan to end ATC furloughs

posted at 2:41 pm on April 25, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Has the latest strategy for the Nightmare on Sequester Street backfired? After a week of finger-pointing over flight delays caused by a 4% reduction in the FAA budget from the sequester, Senate Democrats are ready to throw in the towel rather than risk any more anger — and the White House may be ready to join them:

Under growing pressure, the Obama administration signaled Wednesday it might accept legislation eliminating Federal Aviation Administration furloughs blamed for lengthy delays affecting airline passengers, while leaving the rest of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in place.

The disclosure came as sentiment grew among Senate Democrats as well as Republicans for legislation to ease the impact of the cuts on the FAA, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held talks with key senators. …

Other senators in recent days have proposed giving the FAA flexibility in the rules governing its spending. Under a different suggestion, funds would be shifted from a federal grant program for airport improvements into the account that pays for air traffic controller salaries.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the other top Democrats have consistently expressed opposition to piecemeal legislation aimed at easing the impact of the spending cuts, a position that congressional officials say reflected the administration’s position.

But support for that view among Senate Democrats has eroded in recent days as airlines reported thousands of flight delays and industry executives pressed for a restoration of full funding for air traffic controllers.

Reid wants to offer a pay-for, but Republicans are already ridiculing it as a gimmick:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to end the cuts by claiming savings from the draw down of war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republicans reject his proposal calling it an accounting gimmick.

There are no “savings” from money that wasn’t going to be spent anyway.  We pulled out of Iraq years ago, and we’re getting out of Afghanistan next year no matter what, Barack Obama insists.  Those reductions have already been claimed numerous times for Democratic deficit-reduction claims, so much so that it’s becoming the wild card in liars-poker budgeting.

Besides, as the Wall Street Journal explained yesterday, the FAA already has authority to shift money between functions:

Legally speaking, the sequester applies at a more general level known as “accounts.” The air traffic account includes 15,000 controllers out of 31,000 employees. The White House could keep the controllers on duty simply by allocating more furlough days to these other non-essential workers. …

The sequester cuts about $637 million from the FAA, which is less than 4 percent of its $15.9 billion 2012 budget, and it limits the agency to what it spent in 2010.  The White House decided to translate this 4 percent cut that it has the legal discretion to avoid into a 10 percent cut for air traffic controllers. Though controllers will be furloughed for one of every 10 working days, four of every 10 flights won’t arrive on time.

So the new legislation is both unnecessary and ridiculous, which describes the Nightmare on Sequester Street hysteria succinctly and accurately, too.  To get an idea of how the White House manages to find the funds for its own priorities, let’s take a quick look at HHS, via John Lott:

The office implementing most of President Obama’s healthcare law is not furloughing its workers as a result of sequestration, its director said Wednesday.

Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said Wednesday that his office has not cut its workers’ hours and pay as a result of the automatic budget cuts that went into effect in March. …

The fact that ObamaCare officials haven’t been furloughed shows that the cuts are political, Rep. Greg Harper (R-Miss.) said Wednesday. … ”Are you telling me, then, that this administration is furloughing air traffic controllers vital to public safety in this country, and yet you’re not furloughing anybody in your agency?” Harper asked during a hearing of the Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee.

Well, the White House likes ObamaCare. Travelers … not so much, apparently.  As I explain in my column for The Fiscal Times today, the inconvenience is deliberate — and is intended to pre-empt any more attempts at spending reductions in the next budget debate:

In other words, the Obama administration could easily have avoided the delays. The White House instead chose to impose as much pain as possible, grandstanding on the impact of sequester cuts that dare to trim less than 3 percent overall from a budget that has grown by more than a third in six years.

Why? Just as with Hertzog’s ploy in 1969, Obama wants to impose a kind of budget-cut fatigue, and they’re running out of time in which to do so.  The FY2014 budget debate will take place shortly in Congress, and Obama wants to spend more than ever–as his long-overdue budget proposal makes clear.  If the sequester succeeds and the world doesn’t come to an end, taxpayers may want even bigger spending reductions in the future.

And, the Obama administration has apparently decided, that just won’t do.  Instead, they prefer to make these ridiculously small reductions from peak spending as painful as possible, in order to punish taxpayers for the sin of having expected government to act responsibly with their taxes.  George Hertzog would be proud.

We have dared to reduce the tribute expected to the ruling, er, governing class in Washington DC.  We must be punished for this transgression.

Update: There’s also this from the editorial board of the President’s hometown newspaper, too, titled “Hostages on the Tarmac”:

Hours before the federal spending sequester began on March 1, when President Barack Obama predicted that “People are going to be hurt,” he did not add, Trust me, I’ll make sure of it. But he might as well have, as this week’s furloughs of air traffic controllers make obvious.

The furloughs reflect panic: Having exaggerated their early predictions that the sequester’s small reduction in spending growth would seriously affect Americans, many Democrats are hell-bent to pre-empt those Americans from drawing two logical conclusions: If one level of cuts is this painless, then maybe we should make … more cuts to expenditures. And while we’re at it, maybe we should ignore the politicians who told us that if Washington lowered the spending growth curve … the Earth will fly into the sun. …

So, what could the administration do to make a reduction of barely 1 percent of actual federal outlays — less than $45 billion of this year’s roughly $3.8 trillion — turn citizens against Republicans who oppose more tax increases? Easy, or so the president’s men and women figured: Cue the air controller furloughs! Let’s stall some flights on the tarmac!

Sure enough, travel delays have followed. We’re less certain, though, that this hostage-taking will cut the way the White House expects: The scheme relies on citizens being — how to put this delicately? — stupid enough to think that the Federal Aviation Administration can’t find a more flier-friendly way to save $600 million.

Ouch!


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