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Airline slowdown - What people are saying

Published: Wednesday, April 24 2013 11:35 a.m. MDT

The control tower at Coleman A. Young International Airport is shown in Detroit, Friday, March 8, 2013. Six air traffic control towers in Michigan are among 238 that could close nationwide, and two other airports could eliminate overnight shifts in early April 2013 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 known as sequestration. The FAA cuts affect mostly small- and medium-sized airports, though officials predict flights to major cities could have delays. Michigan airports on the list are Ann Arbor, W.K. Kellogg in Battle Creek, Coleman A. Young in Detroit, Jackson County-Reynolds Field in Jackson, Muskegon County in Muskegon and Sawyer International in Marquette County's Sands Township.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

The automatic budget cuts in Washington, known as sequestration, have hardly been a secret. Average people, however, tend not to pay attention to such things until they hit them in ways they can’t ignore. That happened this week when the Federal Aviation Administration said the cuts forced it to furlough air traffic controllers, resulting in flight cancellations and long airport lines.

Suddenly, people everywhere are angry and demanding answers. Here is a sampling of opinions nationwide in response:

The Chicago Tribune put the blame squarely on President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress. An editorial Wednesday said the president must not have been happy with opinion polls earlier this month showing people were unconcerned about sequestration.

The editorial said, “So, what could the administration do to make a reduction of barely 1 percent of actual federal outlays — less than $45 billion of this year's roughly $3.8 trillion — turn citizens against Republicans who oppose more tax increases? Easy, or so the president's men and women figured: Cue the air controller furloughs! Let's stall some flights on the tarmac!”

For its part, the White House made it clear Tuesday that all the delays and inconveniences are the fault of Republicans. Spokesman Jay Carney said, “The fact is Congress had an opportunity, but Republicans made a choice. And this is a result of a choice they made to embrace the sequester as — and I'm quoting Republicans — 'a victory for the tea party' and 'a homerun.'"

Speaking of blaming Republicans, the New York Times was squarely on that bandwagon Tuesday with an editorial that said the FAA had no choice because of Republican demands that budget cuts be enacted in exchange for an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling. The real victims of sequestration, the Times said, are the voiceless poor who are losing housing vouchers and Head Start slots.

“The voiceless people who are the most affected by these cuts can’t afford high-priced lobbyists to get them an exception to the sequester…”

The Wall Street Journal, however, isn’t buying those arguments. In an editorial Tuesday, it accused the administration of manipulating things to make them worse. Sequestration forces the FAA to cut 4 percent of its budget, and yet the administration has made sure traffic controllers are cut by 10 percent and the furloughs are distributed equally, rather than applying them strategically to the airports that would least affect air travel.

In addition, the paper says the administration has mismanaged the FAA and refused to update its equipment in recent years. “For more than a decade the FAA has promised to modernize and make the civil aviation system more efficient and reliable, but the only things it has reliably generated are delays or cost overruns or usually both.”

Alexis Simendinger, who covers the White House for Realclearpolitics.org, said the president is feeling pressure from people blaming him for the delays. “Recognizing that long lines at airports heading into the summer travel season might not improve Obama’s job approval numbers — or legislative traction — anytime soon, the White House said the president stands ready to work with Congress on Plan C.”

Of course, there is no Plan C at the moment. Simendinger says a short-term fix may be more important right now.

Jay Evensen is associate editor of the Deseret News editorial page. E-mail him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his web site, www.jayevensen.com.

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