On Friday, Congress acted with a rare display of bipartisanship in coming to the aid of the air traveling public, and, as it turned out, of President Obama as well. The Senate had voted unanimously the day before, and the House, with only 41 dissenting votes, approved allowing the Department of Transportation to give the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the additional funds necessary to minimize the impact of the sequester, and in essence, end the furlough of 1,500 air traffic controllers.
It had become abundantly clear that the President’s latest effort to put pressure on the Republicans to agree to tax increases was backfiring. That effort was the decision to disrupt air travel by furloughing air traffic controllers and deliberately causing flight delays throughout the country. As I argued in a column last week, “This ploy definitely has the potential to damage the Obama Administration, if enough people recognize the cynical game they are playing with the air-travelling public in their effort to get Republicans to cave on increasing taxes as part of some grand bargain. But they are counting on their friends in the media to cover for them, and to keep the heat on the GOP. And that’s probably a safe bet.”
The anger and frustration that Obama had hoped to generate toward Republicans in Congress had not occurred. It became clear that this was a political decision on the part of the President, who had previously said there would no “easy off-ramps” if Congress attempted to undermine the sequester cuts. For one thing, Congress had appropriated over $200 million more than the President’s own budget for this year, even after the sequestration cut of $637 million. Additionally, Republican senators had offered the President the discretion to move funds around to avoid the massive flight delays. Once that information became known, it undermined the administration’s rationale for the furloughs, as they were being carried out.
Most of the media presented the act of Congress as a bipartisan concession in response to an angry public. But Politico deserves credit for accurately characterizing the situation in a column titled, “Democrats blink first on aviation cuts.” They wrote that after months of arguing over a “piecemeal fix to the budget problems caused by the sequester,” “Democrats caved in and agreed to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to keep air traffic control towers running at close to full capacity.”
“All it took was a few thousand people standing in line at the airport.”
Many Democrats are unhappy with the decision, believing it will set a precedent for dealing with the effects of the sequester cuts. So far, the Republicans have withstood the heat coming from Obama and the media, and have not agreed to more tax revenue increases, unless they are within the context of broader tax reform.
But even with this cave-in by the Democrats in Congress and President Obama, it doesn’t appear to have humbled the President. In one of his more revealing lines at Saturday night’s White House White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Obama said, “The fact is I really do respect the press. I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be President; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
Clearly, no one is keeping this President humble.