Bob Fraken: Flighty politicians
Now that Congress has passed legislation that finesses the sequestration cutbacks on controllers, flights will be on time again, and air travel will once more be an effortless joy. Oh, wait. That’s delusional.
At least we’ve seen how rapidly our politicians react, inspired solely by a desire to make life better for all Americans in a responsible, bipartisan way. Ridiculous, you say?
Well then, let’s find a different explanation for the fact that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House joined the White House in providing a quick fix at the first complaints over fight delays caused by air-traffic controller furloughs brought on by that idiotic sequester. Of course there is one.
It starts with the aforementioned idiotic sequester, which forced indiscriminate budget cuts throughout the federal government.
It was considered such a ridiculous idea that any rational group of policysetters would do whatever it took to come up with a way to avoid something so destructive and, let’s call it what it is, stupid.
But there’s the rub. We’re not dealing with rational people here. Instead, we have crazed partisans ruling our roost, and they were unwilling to be even minimally reasonable.
Because of their spite, we are stuck with the sequester, which means various federal programs have to be trimmed with little regard for their relative merit or desperate need.
The Federal Aviation Administration decided it had no choice but to partly meet its targets by scaling back the schedules of those in the towers whose job it is to stop planes from smashing into one another.
There are 15,000 of them, to say nothing of supervisors and technicians who keep up the radar and other electronics.
One unpaid day off every 10 days. Sure enough: Fewer of them meant even more delays.
Travelers immediately raised a ruckus, and that’s all it took for our leaders to scramble and undo the mess.
The voice of the citizens was heard.
Except there’s one other possible motivation: Could it be the fact the airline industry lobbies heavily, and more importantly, spends a ton of money in campaign contributions had a little to do with the instant response? Whatever the reason, the FAA will be allowed some leeway to determine what’s cut, which is not what other agencies have.
Unfortunately, less fortunate Americans don’t have millions of dollars to spend on influence peddling.
Head Start children, the unemployed and people who eat because of Meals on Wheels and other food programs will just have to suck it up. Energy assistance is scaled back. Medical research, border security, NASA, the FBI, you name it. Those are just a few of the areas affected by this slash-and-burn budget cut, $85 billion excised largely across the board.
The economy, which is finally starting to perk up, will be expected to perk down again partly because the furloughs will mean thousands of government workers will have less money to spend and the lack of demand will mean fewer jobs.
They don’t call economics the "dismal science" for nothing.
At least the air-travel uproar did away with the fiction that sequestration would cause barely a ripple and few would notice its effects.
In fact, Republicans complain the flight controller furloughs were unnecessary and designed by the administration to inflict partisan pain on them so they’d cooperate with Democrats, who are saying all the cuts should be lifted. Put that into the "Ain’t Gonna Happen" category. Remember, we’re talking about a Congress that couldn’t even pass a minimal gun-control bill even though 90-plus percent of the country said it wanted one.
Our glorious leaders were able, though, to come to quick agreement on getting the air-traffic controllers back in the towers, but overall, it’s the usual paralysis, which means that the prospect of solving our other crippling problems remains firmly where it has been: up in the air.
Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.