Will flight delays stir up ire against sequester?
Rolling flight delays blamed on automatic government spending cuts imposed in March snarled some of the nation's busiest airports, testing how Americans will gauge Washington's sequester solution to spending and debt issues.
Rolling flight delays. Cancellations. Heavy sighs and grim smirks in packed airport concourses. Has the sequester, Washington’s much-debated automatic spending cut package, finally landed?Skip to next paragraph
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In response to the sequester deal struck by President Obama and Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration this weekend began to furlough its entire 47,000-person workforce (including 13,000 air traffic controllers) to abide by some $637 billion in automatic spending cuts that have to be made by October. The cutbacks mean each employee has to stay at home, unpaid, one day every other week.
The furloughs had an immediate impact on travel on Monday, contributing to two-hour delays at some key airports, including John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia in New York, as well as airports in Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Charlotte, N.C.; and Orlando, Fla. But though delays may again build throughout Tuesday, most problems early in the day – especially in New York – were tied to weather, particularly high winds, though experts said that could change as Tuesday wears on and delays pile up.
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The question at the heart of the sequester debate, which is tied to a far broader debate about the role and cost of government itself, is whether a moderate curtailment of government spending would sow discomfort, if not disaster, for American families.
And as the FAA's employees are some key government intermediaries to many Americans, the looming delays this week may hold clues as to how the sequester will finally play out: Will lawmakers have to cave and send the FAA some supplementary cash, or will dire predictions turn out to be rather milquetoast, giving fiscal conservatives a big win?
“We’re now in a political environment in which there’s fundamental difference about the role of government, where the Democrats believe the government should be there to provide services and the Republicans believe that government should get out of people’s lives,” says Michael Traugott, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“The implementation of the Republican philosophy in legislation and policy is to starve the government financially," he says. "So as far as they’re concerned we’re moving in the right directions. I think that the Republicans have the upper hand in terms of political rhetoric, because by and large they’ll argue … that people are getting along just fine.”