When President Obama signed the fiscal cliff deal in January, he hoped that the threat of automatic sequestration spending cuts would force Republicans to raise taxes. But now that sequestration has started and the federal government is functioning just fine at sequestration funding levels, Obama is looking to increase the spending pain.
Enter the Federal Aviation Administration and the furloughing of on-duty air traffic controllers. After high winds and heavy traffic caused some minor East Coast airport delays Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rushed to the Senate floor to score political points.
“In airports across the country, millions of Americans will get their first taste of the pain of sequestration,” Reid said yesterday. “But many Americans have been feeling that pain for weeks. We cannot and we should not only address the FAA cuts. We cannot ignore the sequester’s overall effect on Americans.”
Problem, not only does the FAA have enough money to pay all their scheduled on-duty air traffic controllers, even after the sequester they actually have more money then they requested for 2013.
Here are the facts: President Obama’s 2013 FAA Budget Request asked for just $15.172 billion. But Congress gave them an extra $1.1 billion for the Grants-in-Aid for Airports program, bringing their total 2013 funding to $16.668 billion. Then the sequester lopped off $669 million in FAA funding, leaving them with $15.999 billion.
But that $15.999 billion is more money than they originally asked for to run the entire agency! In other words, if Obama wanted to, he could re-purpose the Grants-in-Aid money he never wanted, and use it to keep 100 percent of the air traffic controllers on-duty. If Obama believes he does not have the discretion to do this, he could easily ask Congress for it. The Republicans would gladly give it to him.
But the entire point of sequestration is to inflict pain on Republicans. So don’t look for Obama to exercise his discretion to prevent airport delays anytime soon.