BEFORE the skies get too unfriendly as a result of Federal Aviation Administration cutbacks, let's put our tray tables in the upright position and watch the truth monitors in the front of the cabin.
The truth is that sequestration was an Obama administration idea that's backfired. Now that sequestration has taken effect, the administration wants to reroute the discussion and make modest reductions in federal spending as painful as possible.
Fasten your seat belts. This is going to get interesting even if the FAA cuts are grounded. A “fix” is possible, separate from sequestration as a whole, because furloughs of air traffic controllers are starting to inconvenience fliers, including members of Congress who will shuttle home Friday for yet another vacation.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, has piloted some of the most sensible recommendations for effecting the sequestration, pointing out hundreds of areas for cuts that would be neither as visible nor as painful. Earlier this month, Coburn told us how Barack Obama wants this to play out.
“When he said he wanted sequester to hurt, he meant it,” Coburn said. “Because I said, ‘I'll lead the charge to get you the flexibility to make sequester work.' He said, ‘I'll veto it.' I said, ‘You can't mean that.' He said, “I do.' He said, ‘It's going to be painful. I'm going to teach you guys a lesson in terms of we're not going to cut the size of government, because government isn't the problem. Revenue is the problem.'”
For those sitting in coach and not getting the luxury of first-class information, “revenue is the problem” means the federal government isn't getting enough revenue from “the rich.” Obama doesn't want to cut government. He wants to raise taxes. Until he can reach that final destination, he intends to make sequestration as painful as possible.
At week's end, Congress was mulling ways to make the FAA immune from cuts. This is welcome news for travelers, but it shifts cuts to other areas in which Obama can inflict pain. An FAA email cited by The Wall Street Journal said, “the FAA management has stated in meetings that they need to make the furloughs as hard as possible for the public so that they understand how serious it is.”
Evidence points to manipulation of furlough schedules to increase shortages and ramp up the tension. Like all government agencies (and private businesses, for that matter), costs can be cut in areas that don't lead to such pain. The FAA's approach is to take a 4 percent spending cut and turn that it into delays for 40 percent of flights.
The strategy is obvious: Inconvenience people to the point that they'll demand an end to sequestration by doing it Obama's way instead of Coburn's. Business fliers who depend on air travel for their living are especially vulnerable. Obama hopes they'll blame the Republicans. But a bipartisan plan has emerged to sequester the FAA from sequestration.
Obama could upgrade his image with a serious effort to cut spending and an equally serious effort to stop dividing the nation into those who don't get enough public benefits and those who don't pay enough taxes to cover those benefits. He won't. Obama doesn't lead. He divides.
Ronald Reagan led and united. When confronted with a decision by air traffic controllers to furlough themselves (go on strike), he fired them. Somehow, commercial aviation survived this real crisis solved by a real leader.
We're not sure how we'll fare in this manufactured crisis imposed by a man whose ideas are as appealing as a six-hour layover at the nearest hub.