Airline passengers, Republicans, common sense and the American future got a break the other day when congressional Democrats said, oh, well, OK, we’ll vote for a GOP-constructed bill to let airplanes start taking off on time again. They thus helped buck a political ploy backfiring badly on the White House.
It’s a fascinating story in which a little means a lot. That’s because it’s about far more than departure delays, as important as those can be in some situations. It’s about politicians, chiefly liberal Democrats, seeking victory for their ideas and constituencies through means that entail damage to the innocent and of there now being a chance of moving past some of that.
To get there, go back to 2011 when House Republicans insisted they weren’t going to raise the debt ceiling unless steps were taken to address deficits threatening disaster. A failure to raise it portended debt default, itself a disaster, and Republican cooperation was then purchased with a White House proposal. It called for an across-the-board, indiscriminate budget reduction that would go into effect in March 2013 if no other deal was made before then.
The betting by both sides was that the other side would hate at least something in those cuts — defense spending if you were a Republican, spending on social programs if you were a Democrat — and that compromises would eventuate. They didn’t, mostly because President Barack Obama wanted outsized tax increases along with minimal reductions in the amounts by which spending would keep on growing.
While not blameless in negotiations, the Republicans were at least ready to start making some cuts of the kind that are ultimately inescapable if American greatness is not to face extinction. Some even understood the need for genuine, revenue-increasing tax reform. The Democrats would not back up, however, and the White House then indulged in a hullabaloo about how the country would be wrecked when sequestration — the same idea it itself devised — went into effect.
The direness was hooey, though, to be sure, the sequestration was inane — budget decisions made with no effort to evaluate what matters and what does not. And hurt has been felt, such as in some Head Start programs having to cut back.
You probably heard, too, about the end of White House tours because the Secret Service can no longer afford to provide security. That’s a charade. As any number of commentators noted, that money could have been saved by the president giving up just one of his multiple vacations, and the White House easily could have worked out an understanding with Secret Service on that.
Then we got the Federal Aviation Administration’s furlough for air traffic controllers. That was phony, too. The FAA could have met its cutback requirements with moves having no impact on airplanes coming and going. Here was a maneuver intended to cause outrage directed at Republicans for not going along with higher taxes.
When the Republicans offered to redirect the FAA cuts through a new law, though, the Democrats had to choose between having public outrage now being directed at them or voting in favor of it.
Guess what happened? The Republicans won one.
Some liberals are saying what this really shows is how the government is responsive to the rich and not to the poor. That’s wrong. For one thing, there is nothing wrong with helping Joe even if you did not help John. For another, the government is forever responsive to a middle class that exercises major control in politics because it is a crucial source of social cohesion and a primary force come Election Day. And middle class folks who aren’t the least bit rich fly on airplanes.
The good thing here is that, instead of sticking with their taxes-or-no-deals policy, the Democrats may now go along with other fixes of sequestration stupidities as the Republicans, too, give ground on some cuts when others would be better.
The grander possibility — though nothing more than a possibility — is that this administration overreach may have brought us closer to some renewed and more serious negotiations on long-term debt. We will see.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado and a senior fellow at the Independence Institute. Email SpeaktoJay@aol.com.