Sequester? More Like No-quester

So far at least, the disastrous impact of the sequestration cuts predicted by the Obama Administration has not come to pass:

More than a month after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned of “calamity” in the skies, travelers are still flying. Airlines aren’t yet canceling flights. And there’s no sign of the long lines the Obama administration warned everyone to expect when automatic spending cuts hit March 1.

What happened? The much-feared budget ax is turning out to be a slow-rolling series of snips, with effects that have been much more gradual or modest than projected.

Airlines have yet to suspend or cancel flights in response to the cuts, even though LaHood predicted during a White House appearance Feb. 22 that they would do so “within the next 30 days.”

Meanwhile, far fewer airport control towers are facing potential closures than the 238 that the Federal Aviation Administration warned about in February. Only 24 towers — in places like Olathe, Kan., and Gig Harbor, Wash. — are in the first batch set to lose all their FAA funding on April 7. Dozens more will follow through early May, but local or state funding will keep some of those towers operating indefinitely.

The alarms about air travel are a prime example of how the White House “badly miscalculated” its rollout of the sequester, House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) said.

He reserved particular ire for suggestions that the administration instructed agencies not to prepare until almost the bitter end, then pulled out a megaphone to broadcast impending doom.

“In the case of the FAA, it was the same thing — don’t prepare, don’t prepare, don’t prepare, and then a week or two weeks out, full campaign mode,” LoBiondo said. “People can come to their own conclusion, but I’m not sure [President Barack Obama] wants a solution on this, the way he’s been handling it.”

House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) issued his own verdict within two weeks of the sequester taking effect March 1: “The sky isn’t falling.”

Soon after making its initial warnings, the administration began cautioning that travelers won’t start feeling the brunt of the sequester until sometime in April, when throttled-back overtime, rolling furloughs and hiring freezes will sink in at the FAA and the agencies that run airport security and customs checkpoints.

The air-traffic controllers union continues to warn that travelers will feel the pain as the cuts cascade.

“There are very real and very negative impacts to sequestration,” said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, pointing to data the union has compiled looking at impacts to major airports. “There will be a degradation of capacity and efficiency at a time when we should be focused on increasing both.”

But even if that comes to pass, the long lag between the warnings and the reality has fueledcomplaints from both Democrats and Republicans that Obama’s team was crying wolf.

It is also going to make it harder for the Administration to sell their argument that spending cuts harm the economy, which potentially gives the GOP more leverage in future budget negotiations.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    Everyone should agree budget cuts are never going to occur. No matter what a candidate says during the election, very few of them are willing to vote for spending cuts. The real question for the future of policy and governance in the U.S. is when will taxes finally go up on, at least, some segment of the population to fund all of the programs that the voters demand.

    Image what kind of person will want to be in political office in a decade or two when politics is about entitlement programs and how to pay for them. Will being the president in the future be much more like being a big city mayor today where the jobs is about government jobs, targeted taxes, and provide a long list of social services.

  2. john personna says:

    So, I seem to remember “defense disaster” coming from the other side?

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    What puzzles me is whether the Administration’s spokespeople were being deliberately alarmist to provoke a reaction or whether they sincerely believe that it’s impossible to reduce spending without disaster. It could be a teachable moment.

  4. Console says:

    FAA furloughs don’t start for another two weeks and contract towers don’t close until next week.

    So… sure I suppose you can call it a “no-quester.” But that places you more on the side of willful ignorance.

  5. Mark Ivey says:

    “The sky isn’t falling.”

    Unless you are a Republican gun nut who thinks Obama is hoarding all the ammo..

  6. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I thought they were setting up a position to depower any GOP denouncements that problems were “all their fault.” It would have been, after all, standard GOP playbook to block compromise and then “I blame Obama!”

    The GOP’s set-up was to say defense could not stand the cuts, Obama warned that defense cuts like everything else would be indiscriminate, and then …

    I guess something funny happened, in that either nothing could be found for finger-pointing, or the GOP is not in the mood to “blame cuts” on anyone (while asking for cuts).

  7. john personna says:


    Or as Console says, it’s not over.

  8. rudderpedals says:

    The perps take the position that their crimes are minor. Who’d have guessed?

  9. mantis says:

    So because sequestration did not have the level of immediate impact a government shutdown would, it doesn’t exist? The frog may not know he’s being slow-boiled, but humans are supposed to be smarter.

  10. Mikey says:

    @john personna: There seemed to me to be an unspoken assumption on the administration’s part that the management of the affected agencies would simply sit idly and allow the sequester to impact them unimpeded. That didn’t happen, at least not in the agencies with which I work as a contractor. They knew what was coming and prepared, because regardless of how the money’s flowing, they have a significant interest in maintaining their operations.

    The company for which I work instituted mandatory five-day furloughs in the first quarter of this year. We spread them out, we backfilled with people not on furlough that day, we made do and our operations were not adversely affected (although, of course, our bank accounts were). I would fully expect the government would act the same way.

  11. While certainly the sky is not falling, since I personally know people who will be furloughed until September (i.e., not be paid), I think that we are hardly talking about a “no-quester.”

  12. An Interested Party says:

    …I think that we are hardly talking about a “no-quester.”

    Well, for a libertarian, if it doesn’t affect him personally it doesn’t really matter…

  13. Mike says:

    Not Olaf. No!

  14. Mike says:

    @Mike: I mean Olathe. All those key hubs run together

  15. C. Clavin says:

    Yesterday you were lamenting slow growth.
    Today you are saying cutting Government spending has no effect.
    WTF…are you daft, man???

  16. Edmondo says:

    Please, please tell me that the cuts are coming to TSA and the unfortunately named Department of Homeland Security!

  17. Console says:


    It’s a 146 operations a day. Easy, but nothing to sneeze at. I don’t know how seasonal their traffic is, but I’d imagine that all it takes is a big time Kansas City Royals game or Chiefs game for them to see a lot of spillover traffic.

    What people don’t get about air traffic is that average numbers don’t really matter. I don’t care how small time an airport is, all it takes is for 10 guys to show up at once for things to get complicated.

  18. Console says:

    @An Interested Party:

    It’s two of the worst forms of reporting. Who-won-the-day obliviousness combined with cynical glibertarian obliviousness

  19. grumpy realist says:

    Doug, you sound like someone who would take 3% of the rivets out of an airplane and think that because it hasn’t immediately fallen to pieces there’s no problem. You are DEFINITELY NOT an engineer….

  20. Sequester is helping to show how larded the inefficient federal government actually is.   NPS is saving $1.8 million by delaying the plowing of entry roads to Yellowstone Park and thus delaying the spring reopening, or at least that was the plan.  Instead, down in Jackson Wyoming, and Cody Wyoming, local chambers of commerce have raised $170,000 which will be sufficient, using non-federal resouces, to fund clearing their 2 of the 4 snowed-in entrances for on-time openings.  The federal government pays way too much for almost everything it does.  We need more sequesters to wring out achievable cost savings.

  21. Oh yes! And the city of West Yellowstone is getting its road graders out to assist with the third (and most heavily travelled) entrance — not costing anything worth mentioning.   Damn the sequester and full steam ahead.

  22. At Olathe you a user fee of $5 per takeoff and landing would fund the control tower. I know that’s too much to ask of the corporate jet crowd when the lefties can ask Barack to build up and pass along debtload to our children and grandchildren instead.

  23. wr says:

    @Let’s Be Free: Yes! And when it comes time to inspect food so we don’t get sick and die, we can put on a show to raise money! We can use my father’s barn and mom will sew the curtains! Because there’s absolutely no reason that the only superpower should run its affairs on a planned, professional basis when we can scrape together and half ass everything! Freedom!!!!!!!

  24. ratufa says:

    @Let’s Be Free:

    Perhaps unintentionally, you seemed to imply that the $170,000 raised by people in Wyoming is somehow providing services equivalent to $1.8 million of Federal spending. That’s false, as you can see by reading the URLs you helpfully provided. The $170,000 covers just snow plowing for Wyoming and doesn’t even cover the snow plowing for Montana. So, this is not particularly strong support for your Federal inefficiency claims (I’m not making some general claim here about Federal efficiency, just that your argument in this case is pretty weak).

  25. Dave says:

    @Let’s Be Free: You’re so right. I recall when Obama passed the Medicare D doughnut hole without funding to pass the debt on to our children. I remember when Obama invaded Iraq without tax increases or planned funding because it would only cost 10-100 Billion we can pass on to our children. I remember when Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden said “deficits don’t matter” on national television. And I remember when Obama passed the first stimulus and TARP funding and passed all the debt on to our children because raising taxes on his corporate buddies is just too hard. If only those lefties asking Obama to pass debt to our children would quit voting we could get back to balanced budgets and no debt. I dream of a Republican controlled Congress and White House so we can get back to fiscal responsibility.

  26. Dave says:

    If only there was a way us fiscally responsible righties could get those no tax but spend lefties to raise revenues and quit blocking tax increases or loophole closure. DAMN you OBAMA and your army of lefties that actually insist on voting.

  27. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Spending other people’s money is the left’s religion and religion and rational don’t often jibe.

  28. Stonetools says:

    Looking back on the original deal, the mistake the Administration made was it made the cuts stupid but not very damaging. It thought that the Republicans had sensible men of good will who would want an intelligent mix of cuts and revenue instead of stupid cuts with no revenue. Boy, were they wrong. The moral is that if you give a Republican a choice between stupid and no taxes and intelligent with taxes, they’ll pick stupid and no taxes every time.
    I also know no economist who doubts that these spending cuts are going to cost the economy in the end. It’s just that it will take time for the cuts to ripple through the economy, but the cuts will hurt. in the end, the Adminnistration overestimated the intelligence of the Republicans. Hope they don’t do that again.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Spending other people’s deficit money is the left’s one of the right’s religions and most of their religions and rational don’t often jibe.

    Happy to be of help…

  30. @ratufa:

    There are only three entrances NPS plows out in the Spring. The other two entrances are open year round. All three plowed entrances will be opened on time due to local intiatives, with Cody and Jackson ponying up $170K and West Yellowstone claiming no out of pocket expense. So yes, absolutely,the locals are doing the work for about one-tenth of NPS’ claimed cost saving.

    By the way, I oppose everyone’s deficit spending; Barack Obama has done more of it than any other person ever on the face of this earth.

  31. anjin-san says:

    I oppose everyone’s deficit spending; Barack Obama has done more of it than any other person ever on the face of this earth.

    Great. Can you show us some of the many comments you made expressing outrage about Bush’s spending?

  32. mantis says:

    @Let’s Be Free:

    All three plowed entrances will be opened on time due to local intiatives, with Cody and Jackson ponying up $170K and West Yellowstone claiming no out of pocket expense. So yes, absolutely,the locals are doing the work for about one-tenth of NPS’ claimed cost saving.

    Your cost figures are bullshit, as two of the links you provided clearly state:

    Mandatory cuts kicked in three days before the plows were to start clearing snow and ice from 300 roads at altitudes that reach 11,000 feet. Faced with an order from Washington to slice $1.8 million from his budget, the park superintendent, Dan Wenk, had considered his options.

    He could slash the ranks of the 430 seasonal rangers, guides and other employees who help keep Yellowstone running every summer. But it would mean fewer visitor centers open, fewer walking tours and a risk to public safety.

    He could halt the bison-management program — but the program is required under a court settlement. He could close the park for two weeks before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but that would mean shutting out 267,000 visitors.

    Or he could keep the seasonals, just fewer of them, and bring them on two weeks later, saving $450,000. He could freeze all permanent hires ($1 million), delay the snowplows ($250,000) and open most entrances two weeks late. About 50,000 visitors would be lost, and hundreds of fishing and hiking guides, rangers, and concession workers would lose their livelihoods.

    The entrance snowplowing operation is priced at $250k. You referred incorrectly to the $1.8 million figure, which is what the park needs to cut in total. Considering this, and the fact that the money raised by locals only covers part of the job, it seems clear that your claims about federal waste and the frugality of locals in this instance are total nonsense. I for one am shocked that someone with your level of integrity would ever spread obvious falsehoods.

  33. @mantis:

    Okay I only read the first couple of paragraphs from the Post story trying to get a quick read on the number. Mea culpa. The locals are doing the work for only about a third less. Sorry.

  34. @anjin-san:

    In a blog post earlier this year I said, “Economic reality and facts lost weight in the era of Bush and mattered not at all in the world of Obama.” When you look where Bush ended up and where Obama is, there’s not a whole lot of difference. Tragically there’s been a continuum and a race to the bottom; it’s destroying our chidren’s and grandchildren’s future. Reality is the Bushie’s (aka establishment Republicans) hate me almost as much as you guys do.

  35. C. Clavin says:

    @ Let’s Be Free…
    The story you are telling about the NPS is not the entire story.
    If you have to leave pertinent facts out in order to make your point…it’s not much of a point to begin with.
    You should try thinking about that for a bit before your respond.

  36. mantis says:

    @Let’s Be Free:

    The locals are doing the work for only about a third less.

    False. The locals on the south and east entrances are doing a fraction of the work for about 1/3 less. There are also north, northeast, and west gates with roads that need plowing. Now I don’t know the cost breakdown road to road, but if they are roughly equal that would mean the Wyoming folks are doing 2/5 of the work for 2/3 of the money. That is not a savings.

    I know reading and understanding things is hard work, but it’s worth it if you expect people to take you seriously.

  37. C. Clavin says:

    @ Mantis…
    Plus…they are only clearing the roads.
    The biggest chunk of savings comes from NOT BEING OPEN for business.

  38. An Interested Party says:

    Tragically there’s been a continuum and a race to the bottom; it’s destroying our chidren’s and grandchildren’s future. Reality is the Bushie’s (aka establishment Republicans) hate me almost as much as you guys do.

    Reaganites must hate you as well, as it was Saint Ronny who really got the ball rolling on ballooning deficits…

  39. stonetools says:

    Doug will never post this, as it contradicts his preferred narrative, but…..

    Sequestration Effects: Cuts Sting Communities Nationwide


    Organizations and companies have begun laying off workers, while many more have decided not to staff vacant positions. Schools on military bases are contemplating four-day weekly schedules. Food pantries have closed, as have centers that provide health services. Farmers have been forced to go without milk production information, causing alarm in the dairy industry and the potential of higher milk prices. Workers at missile-testing fields are facing job losses. Federal courts have closed on Fridays. Public Broadcasting transmitters have been shut down. Even luxury cruises are feeling the pinch, with passengers forced to wait hours before debarking because of delays at Customs and Immigration. Yes, sequestration is creating the possibility of another poop cruise.

    On the national level, sequestration may be defined by canceled White House tours and long lines at airports that never materialized. But on the local level, it is beginning to sting.

    One month from now, we’ll see if its still a no-quester.

  40. Barry says:

    @john personna: “Or as Console says, it’s not over. ”

    Or rather, it hasn’t really started yet.