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April 30, 2013

Why Conservatives Underestimated the Sequester Impact


As the sequester deadline loomed, the Obama administration warned of massive government cutbacks that would cost jobs, slow the already-slow recovery, and negatively affect virtually every American.
Conservatives largely dismissed the warnings, pointing out how small the cuts were, and stressing that they weren’t actually “cuts” anyway. The federal government would be spending more in subsequent years even with the cuts.
Conservatives had the math right but the human nature wrong; bureaucracies do not act like businesses.
When companies are forced to make budget cuts, they look for ways that will have the least disruptive impact on their customers. Big-government bureaucrats, by contrast, look for the most disruptive options. And that’s what the leadership at the Federal Aviation Administration did.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a regional FAA employee as writing in an email, “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.”
Mission accomplished.
A business having to make similar cuts, about 4 percent of its budget, would have tried to avoid air traffic control as much as possible. And if the cuts had to hit controllers, it would have prioritized the affected airports so that smaller, regional airports would have taken a bigger hit so that the country’s largest and busiest airports would have a smaller impact. Again, not the FCC (i.e., bureaucrats’) way.
We see the same thing when states face education cuts. The education bureaucrats start targeting teachers first, because those make the biggest headlines. Bureaucrats in each state’s education industrial complex often get a pass.
The White House claimed it didn’t have the authority to shift around some of the money at the FAA. This from the same administration that decided it would determine when the Senate was not in session so it could impose recess appointments—some of which the U.S. Supreme Court has now rejected.
The Obama administration can be accused of a lot of things—and often is—but being afraid to assume power no president has in the past isn’t one of them.
And so Congress rushed to move bipartisan legislation to grease the FAA’s squeaky wheel. It’s a good lesson for conservatives as other spending cuts come up: Unlike businesses, bureaucrats facing cuts will do their best to make life worse for their customers until they get their way.


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