Business Ethos Blog

The Sequester: Crime and Punishment

Dr. David Mielke is the Retired Dean of the College of Business at Eastern Michigan University


Dr. David Mielke

The second budget battle is over—the Sequester—or is it? You may remember that about 2 weeks ago the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts took effect—the so-called Sequester. The defense budget and discretionary budgets were hit. One result was the closing of White House tours. The Democrats have blamed the Republicans for refusing to replace the spending with more taxes. Despite ongoing pressure to replace the funding the Republicans have refused to budge, passing the Continuing Resolution budget to keep the government operating at the same level as last year, minus the sequester cuts. The Senate also passed the continuing resolution with the cuts and the President signed the bill. We are now hearing about the impact of the cuts—lost jobs, a slow-down in the economy, cutbacks in social programs and recently the loss of air traffic controllers. Six air traffic control towers in the state, including the one at the Detroit airport known as City Airport, are among 149 that could close nationwide, and two other airports could eliminate overnight shifts in early April as the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to shut off funding for those services. The shutdowns are the result of the FAA’s move to reduce spending by $600 million under automatic federal budget cuts. The FAA cuts affect mostly small and medium-size airports, though officials predict flights to major cities could have delays. Next on the list could be furloughs at major airports of security personnel that could mean flight delays for travelers. So in the weeks ahead travelers will likely experience the frustration of flight delays, cancellations and closed airports. Can we afford to continue with these cuts, given the severity of the impact? What is the “Right Thing to do?” Let’s look at some issues:

1. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accounts for only 20% of the Transportation budget but under White House and Congressional sequester math somehow absorbs 60% of the cuts.

2. Last week a budget bill was introduced in the Senate by Jerry Moran of Kansas that would have avoided many of the FAA service cutbacks. He proposed replacing $50 million of FAA sequester cuts with savings from unspent balances, which are a kind of agency slush fund, and by reducing other low priority spending. A good idea, but…

3. …Senate Majority leader Harry Reid blocked the amendment from ever getting to the Senate floor for a vote.

4. He used the same tactics last week to block nearly a dozen other measures to soften the impact of the sequester. Mr. Moran could not get a vote on an amendment to restore the White House tours by cutting $2.5 million for new uniforms for airport screeners.

5. Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma sponsored 7 amendments to save money, including one to provide funding to the National Park Service to keep open parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite—by cutting programs that even President Obama said are low priority. He also proposed freezing hiring of nonessential personnel and to end conferences by the Department of Homeland Security. He got roll call votes, but all were defeated when Mr. Reid gave the order to defeat the bills.

6. The crime is obviously the sequester. The punishment is obviously to see reductions in services to the taxpayers.

Is this the “Right Thing to do?” I thought the job of our representatives in Washington was to serve the people. Mr. Reid seems to have missed that basic premise. We should be looking for ways to make sure budget cuts—and they are badly needed, have the least impact on essential services. The real crime is Mr. Reid’s blocking tactics supported by President Obama, whose main political goal continues to be to impose as much sequester punishment as possible on the public to force Republicans to raise taxes again.