…except that the furloughs now in the news are of a different kind. In this case, federal employees will be put on unpaid leave of varying lengths because of the “sequester.”
The long run-up to the sequester began during the summer of 2011, when Congress and the Administration failed to reach a budget deal. Their “solution” was the Budget Control Act of 2011, which mandated–among other things–that if no agreement was reached by the end of 2012, most agencies would be forced to impose 5% across-the-board budget cuts.
The thinking behind the 2011 law was that our elected leaders would never allow a sequester to happen. A thoughtful, even surgical cutting of the budget? Fine. But wielding a 5% meat axe would be so unpalatable that our elected representatives would never let it happen.
Guess again. Furloughs are here, and all manner of federal programs are under threat.
Unless, of course, you are well-connected.
As soon as furloughs reached air traffic controllers, leading to several hour airport delays, legislation exempting the Federal Aviation Administration from the worst of the sequester was introduced.
Don’t get me wrong. Getting air travel moving again is a great idea. But this latest legislative maneuver is clearly aimed at placating a relatively well-off group–that is, frequent fliers. This group, of course, includes many members of Congress.
It makes me wonder what other special exceptions our elected representatives will carve out while they are busy not solving the pressing national issues we sent them to Washington to fix.
Agriculture Department meat inspectors have been spared, suggesting that carnivores also constitute an especially powerful lobby. I just hope that scientific and medical research–e.g., the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation–has equally powerful friends! [Disclaimer: My wife and I are recipients and/or prospective recipients of NSF and NIH funding; even if we weren't, I would still place a high priority on curing cancer.]
Program-by-program exceptions will both circumvent the incentives that the Budget Control Act was supposed to impose on the politicians. And it will justify a redistribution of federal spending toward programs with a lot of constituents and, even better, well-connected constituents, while others are starved for funding.
This is no way to make budget policy.