President Obama is bound and determined to make the sequester, what should have been a painless spending cut, into a serious pain in the rear.
His first strategy was an all-out scare campaign designed to talk up the dramatic, heart-wrenching effects that the sequester would supposedly have if it was allowed to go into effect. Teachers would get pink slips, illegal aliens would be released, aircraft carriers would not be deployed and job-creating investments would be eviscerated. As it turns out none of those things happened. The sequester came and went with a whimper and Obama’s fear mongering only succeeded in turning Americans against him.
Now Obama’s team of crack political operatives is back with a different plan. Apparently they now think that if they can’t scare the bejeezus out of people, perhaps the Administration can just annoy them into submission! The Wall Street Journal reports:
“President Obama’s sequester scare strategy has been a political flop, but his government keeps trying. The latest gambit is to force airline flight delays until enough travelers stuck on tarmacs browbeat enough Republicans to raise taxes again.
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.”
Dubiously is right. In late February, before the sequester went into effect, Senate Republicans offered legislation that would give the president flexibility to allocate the cuts as they saw fit, presumably to less effective, duplicative, or less essential programs. What did Republicans get for their trouble? A veto threat from the president that essentially marked the bill dead on arrival should it make it out of the Senate.
Nevertheless, even without further legislation, many argue that the White House still has the legal authority to avoid flight delays or furloughs. Moreover, the legal opinions come from across the political spectrum as the Detroit News reports:
“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 sequestration has on the FAA’s core mission priorities,” wrote ex-Clinton counsel Seth Waxman. Ben Herst, Delta’s general counsel, cited the bipartisan memos 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 of our great assets, yet we have government trying to get in the way to prove a point?’”
Even Delta Airlines expressed their objections to the White House’s decision to play politics with their business model. “Delta Air Lines appealed to the FAA on Monday to change how it implements the sequester spending cuts, laying out legal arguments that show the FAA could avoid putting air-traffic controllers on furloughs and shuttering control towers,” reported Politico’s Kathryn Wolfe.
Perhaps the White House would have a leg to stand on if only they had asked for any needed flexibility they felt they lacked. But not even that has happened.
“Have you asked the Congress for those changes to allow you to [avoid the need for furloughs]?” Representative Hal Rogers asked Federal Aviation Administration Chief Michael Huerta during a transportation subcommittee hearing.
“No,” Huerta replied.
In other words this is a manufactured crisis designed to force the Republicans’ hand. If the White House succeeds in making enough people angry and pointing enough fingers at the House of Representatives then perhaps they can build public pressure to do away with the sequester. This goes beyond political gamesmanship to downright dirty tricks. After all, the sequester only cuts the FAA by $647 million, less than 4 percent of its $15.9 billion budget. But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Obama is translating this 4 percent cut into a 10 percent cut for air traffic controllers, arguably the most critical of all FAA workers. Then again, maybe even this shouldn’t be a problem since the number of controllers has increased since 1998, despite the number of flights dropping by 23 percent.
But the White House has made clear that this isn’t the time to discuss facts or use logic. This is a time for politicking. In reality all it’s doing is making “flying the friendly skies” a little less friendly.