GOP And The Sequester: Disingenuous, Naive & Misinformed
As I posted on March 1, the sequester -- the across-the-board spending cuts ordered by the Budget Control Act-- would only become real for most voters when the predictions of the impact of the reductions actually started to have a effect on their lives.
Although some people felt it almost immediately, any budget analyst worth his or her salt knew that the real pain was always going to come when federal programs that were labor intensive started to implement furloughs, layoffs and hiring freezes and the services they provided had to be curtailed. That was always going to take a month or more because of the process that needs to be followed to notify employees.
But the fact that labor-intensive programs didn't reduce services immediately when the sequester began on March 1 never meant that it wasn't coming. It always was and the protests that the White House was playing fiscal chicken little were simply wrong.
That why it's hard not be be at least somewhat amused by the mock congressional Republican outrage over the problems that started to be felt this week by airline passengers because of the sequester-related furloughs and other personnel changes at the Federal Aviation Administration.
It's amusing because the air traffic control slowdowns were totally predictable. At least 70 percent of FAA's expenses are personnel-related so it was inevitable that the 5.1 percent across-the-board sequester cut would be felt in everything the agency does including -- or especially -- in its primary function: managing air traffic. When you set up a system like sequestration that requires an agency or department to cut every program, project, and activity by the same percentage, and when an agency's spending is mostly for salaries and other compensation-related expenses, it's not hard to see from the start that there has to be an impact on the number of people doing that agency's work.
No amount of outraged statements from Senate and House Republicans changes that budget reality.
It's also amusing because congressional Republicans refused to believe the warnings that were coming from the agencies and departments themselves about what the sequester would do to their operations when they were issued in January and February.
They also flatly denied what the White House was saying at the start of the year about the impact the cuts would have on government services. The administration was fear-mongering, they said, even though it was clear to anyone who could read the federal budget that agencies like the FAA would have no choice but to reduce the services they provide and that airlines and passengers would feel the changes.
It's also amusing because what's happened this week with the FAA has happened before in 1995 and 1996 during the two government shutdowns. Anyone who lived through it will tell you that there was almost instant surprise, shock and anger about the national parks being closed because few realized it would actually happen or believed it when they were warned.
There are, however, three differences between what's already happened this week and what happened 18 years ago.
The first is that the White House actually had more discretion in 95-96 than it has today. President Clinton had the authority to exempt critical programs -- like FAA -- from the shutdown. By contract, President Obama has no such power when it comes to the sequester.
The second is the people who have been affected. In 1995 and 1996 it was campers, hikers and RVers. This week it primarily was salespeople, Wall Streeters and business travelers.
The third is that there was a more or less instant cure for the shutdowns in 95-96 because the problem could be stopped quickly by passing a continuing resolution and reopening the government. This time, the debate will be far harder because the decision has a number of nuances. Are the funds taken from somewhere else to keep the planes flying on time? Should other government services be similarly rescued? Would it be better just to spend more and increase the deficit to restore these services? Will supporters of the other programs that might be cut to pay for FAA et al allow that to happen?
In the meantime, it's impossible not to see this week's congressional GOP complaints about the sequester either completely disingenuous, incredibly naive or totally uninformed. Of course it's also possible that all three apply at the same time.