The United States government has had two years to head off automatic "sequester" spending cuts that most people agreed were unnecessary and almost everyone hated.
But these days, the government doesn't do anything unless public anger hits such a state of fervor that Congress -- people actually begin to fear for their jobs.
Most of the sequester cuts have so far gone unnoticed, except insofar as they have contributed to the latest "spring swoon" in the economy.
But one of the cuts--a 10% hack to the budget of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) --has already infuriated almost everyone.
This week's flight delays due to the "furloughing" of FAA air traffic controllers, in other words, has done what two years of lead time has not:
Congress was actually forced do something.
Today the House of Representatives passed the Senate plan designed to allow the FAA to recall the air-traffic controllers by a 361-41 vote. White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama plans to sign the bill. The legislation gives the Department of Transportation the option to use about $250 million in unspent funds to cover the costs of air traffic controllers and other essential employees at the FAA.
If these furloughs had continued through September, they would have saved $200 million of the $637 million that the FAA has to cut from its $16 billion budget.
This issue underscores the philosophical differences about the ideal role and scale of government in a civilized society.
Americans generally believe that government should be smaller, and do less, than the governments in most civilized societies (our government spending, and our tax rates, are low relative to other first-world countries).
But aside from a few fringe extremists who think we should go back to being a lawless frontier nation, it's hard to imagine that are too many Americans who don't think we should have a fully functioning air traffic control system.
But our government apparently does.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to waste an extra hour every time I am forced to travel by plane. And I don't want our employees to waste countless hours every time they're forced to travel by plane. And I don't want all Americans to waste countless hours every time they travel by plane... all so that we can cut a tiny bit of spending that we don't even need to cut.
If our government wants to talk seriously about fixing our long-term healthcare spending problem--the only budget problem that is really a problem--then, great. It's high time the government did that.
But enough with the nickel-and-dime slashing of basic services.
We need a fully functioning air-traffic control system.
And it's time we got ours back.
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