Nobody likes to wait in an airport line. No one wants his or her flight canceled. It’s bad for business when people spend time sitting in airports when they should be at meetings. It’s no fun to miss important family events.
Under the package of across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester, however, these delays are to be expected.
The Federal Aviation Administration is among the agencies forced to cut its budget by 5 percent over the next seven months. The reduction is being met by furloughing all its employees, including air traffic controllers.
Furloughs mean fewer air traffic controllers are working at any given time. That means arrivals and departures of aircraft must be slowed down to keep the runways safe, creating longer waits for passengers.
But don’t blame the FAA.
This crisis was designed and built by members of Congress and the White House, and it’s working about how it was intended. These cuts were supposed to hurt. They target defense and the domestic programs that people of all political stripes actually like.
The idea was to make the cuts so unpleasant no one would let them go into effect and everyone would be forced to engage in bipartisan deficit reduction talks.
Apparently not everyone got the script, however, and while the president offered a balanced approach that cut entitlement programs and raised revenue by closing loopholes used by the wealthiest taxpayers, Republicans would not play ball. So we are left with cuts that affect the services that many Americans depend on.
Republicans in Congress are blaming the agencies for the negative effects on their constituents. They argue that the administration has rigged the cuts to create political pressure on them to raise taxes. The FAA, they argue, could cut other places such as its consulting and research budgets, instead of furloughing its employees, including air traffic controllers.
The agency, however, counters that it does not have that kind of discretion.
More than 70 percent of its budget goes to pay employees, so there is no way it could cut in a meaningful way without affecting employment. Consulting fees are spent on contract services such as telecommunications and weather radar can’t be cut.
This problem could be fixed with a bipartisan deficit reduction deal that balances the policy priorities of all sides. Barring that, we are stuck with the cuts causing effects like these delays at airports.