Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - Clearly, President Obama is playing a nasty political game with the air-traffic controller furloughs that have forced severe airline delays across the country.

It's not the first time he's exploited the budget-cutting sequestration law for political purposes. Earlier this year, he tried to stir up fears that our economy would be hit by fiscal armageddon if the Republican House didn't submit to his tax and spend demands.

But his hysterical claims that our food would be unsafe, America's defenses would crumble, and the elderly would lose their benefits have proven to be groundless.

A headline in Thursday's Washington Post states that "Defense firms not yet suffering from budget cuts."

Defense Department contractor General Dynamics, for example, reported its first-quarter sales dipped a little to $7.4 billion, and Northrop Grumman said sales were down slightly to $6.1 billion. The defense industry is doing fine.

So the sky's not falling, the government is beginning to see higher revenues, the deficit appears to have shrunk a little, and Social Security checks are going out on time.

But over at the Federal Aviation Administration, they're playing a different game, hitting the air flying public and air freight industry where it hurts the most: lengthy delays that cost time and money.

FAA officials say sequestration cuts have forced them to sharply reduce the number of air traffic controllers and that they had no other options.

But Republican leaders on Capitol Hill says the White House is playing hardball budget politics with the FAA and the airlines, and that the spending cuts could have fallen elsewhere in the FAA's vast bureaucracy.

"This is a manufactured crisis," says Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a member of the Appropriations subcommittee that approves funding for the FAA.

Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, its ranking Republican, shot off an angry letter to the FAA, demanding an accounting of the furloughs and its costs.

They were not buying the administration's explanations they their hands were tied by the sequestration process.

"Many stakeholders argue that you have flexibility within your budget to avoid or minimize air traffic controller furloughs," they wrote.

In fact, the FAA has some flexibility over where the cuts can fall, but they zeroed in on the most critical part of their budget, knowing it would trigger a political explosion.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.