Sen. Coburn on the Sequester, the FAA, and Flight Delays

The left and the media would like us to believe that the sequester is to blame for flight delays that Americans are currently experiencing.  But today on CNBC, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) explained that political motives are the real reason for flight delays.  The Obama administration, the Department of Transportation, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could have made smarter spending cuts if they wanted to, but that would not jibe with the left’s political narrative.

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Morning Action: The Truth About Medicare

MEDICARE.  Some people are blaming the sequester for the decrease in cancer patients’ access to Medicare treatment.  Heritage untangles the spin:

But policymakers and taxpayers alike may want to take a closer look: Immediately ahead, for fiscal year 2013, the total effect of sequestration will be $3 billion. That is the same amount Obamacare is supposed to reduce Medicare spending this year.

But if Medicare patients can’t access vitally needed care because of $6 billion in total reduced Medicare payments, they’d better prepare for next year. That’s when Obamacare cuts an estimated $41 billion out of Medicare—in addition to the Medicare sequestration cuts of $9 billion that year.

The total effect of sequestration on Medicare benefit spending is $100 billion from 2013 to 2023. Those cuts pale in comparison to the $716 billion in Medicare payment reductions required by Obamacare over the same time period.

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Big Bad Sequester Hits (Not So) Poor Little Airports

It’s been four days since the sequester went into effect and try as they might, the media and the Obama administration are having a tough time justifying the claims of Armageddon.  That doesn’t mean they won’t try, though.

One such piece details the reactions of folks in the conservative state of Kansas, where the air traffic control center of the Garden City Regional Airport “could” be shut down.

As the Heritage Foundation has suggested, though, air traffic control centers do not have to be run and controlled by the federal government via the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  It may be difficult for liberals to wrap their minds around this idea, but the private sector is fully capable of fulfilling these functions – and the private sector would do so more efficiently and cost effectively.

Moreover, the Garden City Regional Airport is actually one of the many small, rural airports subsidized by the federal taxpayer dollar through the FAA’s Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which was created in 1978 and was set to expire in ten years but still exists. 

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Are FAA Sequester Cuts as “Dumb” as They Look?

Sequestration budget cuts are a “dumb idea,” which “will not work,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  Sure, the sequester was not the best way to cut federal spending; however, in light of our nation’s $16.6 trillion debt, spending definitely needs to be cut.  And to be clear, there are areas in which this can be done.  Sadly, most of the people running the federal government can’t seem to understand that.

Take the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for example.

The FAA requested $15.172 billion for FY2013, but the Continuing Resolution – passed last fall – locked in funding levels of $16.668 billion.  The FAA’s sequester hit will be just $669 million, which means their post-sequester funding level of $15.999 billion will still be above their original request.

You read that right!  The FAA is getting more than they need – more than they asked for – even after sequester cuts.

Nonetheless, the Washington Post reports that “the administration has portrayed a grim picture of long lines at airports and closed airport towers if the required reductions at the Federal Aviation Administration are allowed to proceed.”  To be sure, the President has used FAA sequester cuts to beef up his dramatic sequester act.

But even Spencer Dickerson of the American Association of Airport Executives said, “There’s a lot of dramatics going on.”

Here’s the FAA’s argument and that of others who oppose the sequester budget cuts.

The FAA uses 71 percent of its operations budget to pay salaries for controllers, supervisors, air safety inspectors and technicians, and therefore, when it is asked to make a 5 percent budget “reduction” in seven months, a large chunk of that has to come from personnel.   This will in turn affect travelers.

But think about this: the FAA’s expenses have climbed significantly in the past several years due to union contracts and congressional pressure to bolster the ranks of aviation safety inspectors.  In fact, the FAA budget has grown even as air travel has fallen.

And this taxpayer money is not being spent efficiently.

There are the roughly 112 airports subsidized by the Essential Air Service (EAS).  The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program was put in place to guarantee – with taxpayer dollars – that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.

Of the 124 EAS funded airports (excluding Alaska), only 19 made it onto the list of 233 airports in which air traffic control facilities may be close.  So rather than closing – or threatening to close – those air traffic control facilities that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxpayer-funded subsidies through the EAS program, President Obama would prefer to inconvenience travelers and close airports that are in greater demand by travelers.

Rather than continuing to breed government dependence among the airline industry, the Heritage Foundation has proposed the following suggestions:

[A]ll non-safety functions of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are transferred to the private sector, and most FAA fees are eliminated. The air traffic control system will be transferred to the private sector, where it belongs, and financed by flight ticket user fees. The airport improvement program is also terminated, with airlines, state government, and private investment taking the place of the federal taxpayer.

If lawmakers had taken these reforms seriously when they were proposed in 2011, today’s debate would be different.  If they believed in free market principles and legislated accordingly, our national debt would be different as well.

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The McClintock “EAS” Amendment Vote Recap

Last night, the House of Representatives voted on the McClintock Amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R.5972). The amendment would have eliminated discretionary spending on the Essential Air Services (EAS) program, which provides subsidies to commuter and regional airlines in order to provide service to rural airports that are not economically viable absent federal subsidies. The key vote is listed below, along with a breakdown of how Republicans and Democrats voted:

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