StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between



Federal Spending Is Very Popular. Episode 9: The FAA Sequester

29 Apr 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

Last August and September, I did a series of eight posts about how, contrary to Tea Party and John Boehner assertions, federal spending was actually very popular. As I said at the time, Americans don't want less government; they just want government that costs less.

The latest installment -- episode 9 -- happened last week when the air traffic control problems caused by the sequester were fixed in what by congressional standards was warp speed.

Faced with an immediate backlash from flyers, Congress and the White House enacted legislation that fixed the problems less than a week after the furloughs caused long delays in the skies and long security lines at the airports.

Yes...Flyers are a relatively elite group relative to the population at large. Yes...this is a group that has more influence and a larger megaphone than the average voter. And yes...the delays were easier for the media to cover and so were more visible than sequester-related reductions in other programs.

But my main point from last year's series of posts is just a relevant now. Faced with the choice of a reduced federal service or a reduction in spending, the decision was immediate and unmistakable: a federal service was the winner.

I looked at the coverage of the FAA furloughs closely for any sign of anyone declaring that this is the price we have to pay for reducing the deficit. As far as I can tell either no one said it, or no one said it loud enough for it to be recorded. Convenience rather than belt tightening was the clear preference. (Please let me know if you saw the opposite.)

This says a great deal about the budget debate that's ahead.

1. Federal programs that have the potential to inconvenience large groups -- like air traffic control-- are going to be very difficult to cut no matter what.

2. As happened with the sequester, spending reductions for these programs put in place with great fanfare and lots of political chestbumping are very likely to be reversed within a relatively short period. It might take longer than a week, but the reversals should be expected and built in to projections.

3. If the FAA was hard to cut, think about Medicare and Medicaid, which are far more important to many more people than air traffic control. Indeed, the biggest lesson of the FAA sequester reversal is that changes in Medicare and Medicaid will be far more difficult that anyone is imagining.

4. Federal employees should be worried. The administrative and operating expenses of most departments and agencies will not be a great concern to voters because it's hard to see how most of that affects them directly.

5. The National Park Service may well be the next reversal if furloughs cause the parks to close one day a week or month as has been rumored.

6. The IRS may also be a candidate for a reversal if it becomes obvious that refunds are seriously delayed. 

My takeaway is your initial

My takeaway is your initial point - flyers are an elite group with a large megaphone.

There have been numerous stories about cuts to public housing, head start and cancer drugs, all of which are very negative for the people affected, yet nothing gets done.

Inconvenience to flyers - immediate action.

There is a lot of political science research that finds the political process very responsive to the best off, somewhat responsive to the middle class and not responsive to the poor. The FAA situation seems just another example.


Following up on my comment,

Following up on my comment, "Per-Student Pre-K Spending Lowest in Decade" http://swampland.time.com/2013/04/29/per-student-pre-k-spending-lowest-i...

Education is a major concern. The best off are immune to changes in public funding, the middle class is not. What has the political system done?


Sequestor

Stan,

Good points for sure. I am troubled that the decision makers are going to punish our school children, particularly those district that rely heavily on Title VIII(Impact Aid) money. These students do not have the financial clout that many of the business travelers do, nor do these student impact the travel plans of many of our fine Congressional members. It is frustrating for many of us in Federally Impacted School Districts to see money going to foreign countries, most of whom despise us, when these monies could be used to pay the Fed's property tax bill. How many of you would like to do the same thing with your county auditor or treasurer?

It is a pity that the budget cuts will negatively affect the future of this country. It will be both interesting and very frustrating to see how this develops.

John

P.S. For those who read this response and think Impact Aid is a supplemental fund for districts with federal lands, please let me set you straight. The Title VIII program was enacted by Congress when Harry Truman was President. The program supplants, or replaces, lost property tax revenue due to these federal lands. Many of these school districts cannot make up the lost revenue, either by raising property taxes on those who are regular property owners or via cuts, whether those be the elimination of staff or programs.


The NIH budget is selfishly

The NIH budget is selfishly near and dear to my own heart, since the vast majority of my lab's budget is supported by NIH grants. I assume that the universities and medical schools that receive NIH grants are lobbying like mad to get the NIH budget sequestration reversed.


I'm not sure that I'd

I'm not sure that I'd characterize flyers as an elite. Now FREQUENT flyers probably are and since they fly frequently, they constitute a disproportionate percentage of passengers. But in the post airline deregulation world, I'd guess that a majority of American adults have taken a plane trip sometime. And a pretty large percentage fly at least every other year. I suspect a larger percentage than have put their children in head start, or received meals-on-wheels. So even if those most effected are elites, a large percentage of the population imagines themselves to be at least potentially affected, unlike some other programs.

The austerians have been most successful at pitching social security cuts by persuading many young people of the inevitability of it's dissolution, the "SS won't be around when I'll retire," meme. This despite the fact that NONE of the projections have SS unable to pay out less than ~75% of the benefits currently promised, even with an exhausted "trust fund."


Well, the National Park

Well, the National Park Service may well be the next reversal if furloughs cause the parks to close one day a week or month as has been rumored.

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