Back in the winter, Republicans were perfectly happy to let the sequester happen. They hewed to their math-challenged belief that Washington could slash the budget deficit by taking an axe to entitlement programs, preserving or hiking defense spending, lowering tax rates, and foregoing any new revenue. And if the Obama administration refused to go that route, Republicans were fine to let the sequester kick in on March 1 - as mandated by the 2011 deal between the parties.
Granted, the sequester was never supposed to happen - draconian by definition, it was designed to bring everyone to their senses - but Republicans figured it had an upside. Federal spending would be cut 2.5 percent across the board, and, to them, that smelled like victory. Nobody in the real world would really get hurt, they said, and anybody who claimed otherwise was just a scaremonger.
Five weeks later, it’s bye bye mockery. Republicans have awakened to reality. They’re still fine with the sequester in the abstract, of course, but they seem displeased with how it’s starting to bite in their own backyards. Funny how that works.
It should be noted that their whining is quite selective. They’re basically silent about the imperiled or reduced Head Start programs for kids in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Morris County, New Jersey and Cincinnati Ohio; about the special-education cuts and the imperiled rent assistance program in Sacramento, California; about the research funding cuts at the University of Florida and in the Human Genome Project at Missouri’s Washington University; about the Medicare cuts that are already prompting cancer clinics to turn away patients because the clinics can’t shoulder the cost of expensive chemotherapy drugs. (As one cancer clinic executive said, “A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening.”)
Republicans don’t seem particularly upset about that stuff, but they’re shocked to discover that certain cuts are aimed at their own enclaves. Why, it’s an outrage!
For instance, Texas congressman Steve Stockman is fulminating about possible cuts at NASA (which is situated in his district). NASA has a “legitimate function of government,” he said, because it helps American avoid getting “hit by an asteroid.” And South Dakota senator John Thune is upset that the feds have closed some campgrounds at Wind Cave National Park (which is situated in his state). He says that these campgrounds are “a revenue source,” and he thinks that the Obama administration’s shutdown decision is “politically calculated.”
But Republicans have reserved their finest whine for the spending cuts at rural airports.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has been ordered to slash $637 million for the rest of the current fiscal year, has announced that it will close 149 air traffic control towers at small airports. The air-traffic controllers who work there can be laid off immediately because they’re private contractors; unionized air-traffic controllers, who work at the bigger airports, can be laid off only after a one-year negotation period. The rural skies will remain safe, says an AP story, because “pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers, under procedures that all pilots are trained to carry out.”
A huge share of these rural airports are in red states and red congressional districts. So of course Republicans are asking that the cuts be rescinded, that they receive special treatment. Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann (I’m trying to finish this sentence with a straight face) says that the FAA decision to close a tower in her district “shows a troubling lack of priorities.” Missouri senator Roy Blunt says that the decision to close a rural tower in his state is “interrupting Americans’ lives and air travel.” Florida congressman Dennis says that the “arbitrary” closure of an “important” tower in his district could have a “devastating” impact on the upcoming “Sun n’ Fun,” an annual convention that “serves our children.”
In response to this whining, I will simply invoke Mr. Pink, the film character in Reservoir Dogs played by Steve Buscemi, who rubbed his fingers together and said, “You see this? This is the world’s smallest violin, playing just for you.”
Yo, Republicans: You wanted across-the-board spending cuts? Fine, you’ve got them. It’s not just kids and cancer patients and 47 percenters who get hurt. Welcome to your own back yard.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.