House Republicans (artist's conception)
Republicans in the House transportation subcommittee called Federal Aviation Administration administrator Michael Huerta before them on Wednesday to whine that the Obama administration hadn't warned them that sequestration would cause flight delays, which it definitely had
, and to insist that Huerta could do something to avert delays despite the sequester if he really wanted to.
Huerta laid out the math: Operations is 61 percent of the FAA's budget; the airport improvement program, which makes up a significant chunk of the other 39 percent, is exempt from sequestration, a decision Congress made. Payroll is 70 percent of the operations budget. Safety-related workers are 84 percent of the operations payroll budget. How do you avert cuts to air traffic controllers given this reality? Well, Republicans believe strongly that the FAA should cut consultants and contractors rather than furloughing air traffic controllers. Small problem:
Mr. Huerta said that the largest single contract was to run the communications system that connects radios, radar and voice lines within the F.A.A.’s national system, and the second-largest was for flight service stations, which provide weather data and other information to pilots.
The third-largest contract is for running control towers at small airports; when the F.A.A. said it wanted to shut 149 of those, it faced a torrent of criticism and lawsuits.
Republicans have no right to be surprised by the cuts they were warned about. They have no right to be outraged by the cuts they made happen. But surprise and outrage are the order of the day, so they can pretend to voters that this isn't really all their fault. The next move, of course, will be to pass legislation shifting money around so that furloughs of air traffic controllers are lifted or reduced—good news for air traffic controllers and travelers, but, as White House press secretary Jay Carney said, "a Band-Aid measure." It would be one more patchwork step to make the harm of the sequester invisible to middle-class people even as kids continue to be kicked out of Head Start, seniors continue to miss out on Meals on Wheels, families continue to risk homelessness as housing assistance is slashed, and low-income women and their children continue to be denied nutrition assistance.