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Opinion: Sequestration is Being Overhyped

April 8, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was written by columnist Kellyn Brown and appeared in the Flathead Beacon, Kalispell, Mont. His regular column is titled  “Like I Was Saying…”

When the Beacon conducted an unscientific poll that asked our online readers if the effects of sequestration were being overhyped, 80% of the 225 voters who responded said “yes.” That may be a small sampling but it also reflects the majority of opinions I’ve received in letters and emails. That is, federal agencies and the media are making the automatic budget cuts appear far grimmer than they actually are. And perhaps they are.

It appears Montana’s iconic national parks, which had suggested that plowing could be delayed because of reduced funding, will begin clearing snow on schedule. Chambers of commerce outside of Yellowstone and the nonprofit Glacier National Park Conservancy donated money to make up the difference. If access to either park were substantially delayed, the reaction from surrounding communities that rely on tourism dollars would be apoplectic.

Still, we’re told other effects of across-the-board federal cuts will be very real, very soon. In Glacier Park, they range from earlier campground closings to fewer ranger-led activities. At smaller airports across the country, including Glacier Park International, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to close control towers. But the impact of either is unlikely to rouse the general public until it is directly felt.

While Montana’s delegation has mostly remained quiet about the looming cuts, other politicians who agreed to this deal have decried the way in which it is being implemented.

In response to campgrounds closing at Wind Cave National Park, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., blasted the National Park Service: “It appears NPS is just another agency following the White House’s lead in trying to find the cuts that can trigger a press release before looking to internal cost-saving measures that are less newsworthy.”

After the FAA chose to close control towers at airports in Bloomington and Decatur (in Illinois), Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, said “it seems short-sighted to me and like the administration wants to inflict pain on the hardworking taxpayers of this country instead of doing their job and running their agency like a business.”

In other words, there are smarter ways to make these cuts, but the federal agencies simply want them to be visibly painful so lawmakers restore funding. And it’s a compelling argument. Can’t the FAA find better ways to trim its budget than closing towers? But another question should also be asked: Is closing the towers, and other cuts, that big of a deal?

Glacier Park International Airport Director Cindi Martin said the tower closing won’t affect operations at the airport, but travelers should expect delays because there will be fewer controllers nationwide.

Other states, and their U.S. lawmakers, appear to have far more at stake than Montana. Along with Davis, Democratic Illinois Rep. Bill Enyart told Politico his district is in a “crisis stage” after furlough notices were sent to 4,500 civilian workers at Scott Air Force Base.

But whether the majority of the country considers the effects of sequestration a “crisis” is an open question. And, unless they do, it’s unlikely that Congress and the president will reach a deal to avert the majority of the cuts anytime soon.

When, and if, enough family vacations are disrupted by shorter park hours, or enough businessmen or women experience multiple flight delays, or enough employees are furloughed or laid off, perhaps then politicians will succumb to pressure. But since the pain is dispersed unevenly, hurting some districts more than others, there may not be a collective outcry.

It will be interesting to see, as sequestration begins to grind away at agency budgets, whether the majority of voters demand that some funding be restored. Right now, that isn’t happening.

 

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