Rule Number One in Politics: Do not mess with an elected official's local airport or their flight home. With this tenet, we continue the saga of the Federal Aviation Administration and its (good?/bad?) handling of the automatic budget cuts that were set in place earlier this year by sequestration.
Facing the first week of intermittent furloughs of air traffic controllers, which led to airline delays, Congress fought back.The Senate didn't even have to take a vote last week to pass legislation giving the FAA the authority to move money around within the agency to stop the furloughs. The House passed the bill 361-41. President Obama reluctantly signed off, facing outcry from the public about flight delays and accusations from Republicans of political gamesmanship.
The move marks Congress's first step in undoing the cuts that came to be when Republicans and Democrats failed to reach agreement on a broader budget framework. The FAA fix represents a small slice of the overall sequester, but aviation is also the most visible of the government programs being trimmed. It is unclear whether similar populist protests will work on less noticeable programs.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama considers the legislation an exception to the overall rule of not picking winners and losers from the sequester cuts. But in Congress, it is clear that when push comes to shove (particularly at a flight departure gate), partisanship goes by the wayside. Everyone wants to change the scenario, even though Republicans continue to say that the sequester isn't doing any harm and Democrats continue to shy away from mitigating the damage for which they blame Republicans.
It's the start of a beautiful friendship. "Throughout this process, my House and Senate colleagues and I insisted that we put the American people first. I'm glad that all parties came together in the end to do that," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., on Friday.
So are we. Despite the White House naysaying, does the FAA sequester bill open new opportunities to mitigate the budget cuts in other ways? How important is the legislation to the FAA and the Transportation Department? What are the harms of keeping air traffic controllers on the job while cutting elsewhere? Are sequester-related harms unique to aviation? What other sectors within transportation could be helped in the same way? Is the new FAA law an admission that the sequester doesn't work? How can infrastructure be supported more efficiently with a smaller budget?