How Piecemeal Fixes Will Make Sequestration Worse

A report out today from the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee shows costly new flaws in Congress’ approach to fiscal policy. Beyond providing updated information on the anticipated impacts to specific programs from the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, the report shows Congress’s piecemeal approach to “fixing” sequestration is more than just unfair — it’s costing the U.S. more money.

Since the threat of sequestration failed to spark a spending compromise and the haphazard slashing began, lawmakers have faced uneven amounts of pressure to replace chunks of sequestration cuts from varying groups. The success of that pressure seems to hinge on the political influence wielded by the group affected by a given cut. Unemployment beneficiaries, Head Start students and parents, 140,000 families on housing assistance, and seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels, among many other politically marginalized groups, have received no relief from sequestration.

Business travelers, on the other hand, have seen their outcry over airport delays due to sequestration yield a “fix” for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Today’s report goes beyond that unfairness to explain how the piecemeal “fix” to avert flight delays is actually raising the economic costs of aviation delays, by tens of billions of dollars:

The [Reducing Flight Delays] Act [of 2013] allowed the FAA to apply sequestration to the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which had been exempt in the original sequestration order. […]

Cutting the AIP program slows FAA’s ability to meet construction needs. FAA estimates that development needs at eligible airports will exceed $42.5 billion over the next five years. The American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” rated our aviation system a “D,” estimating that the cost of congestion and delays to the economy will rise to $34 billion in 2020 (up from $22 billion in 2012), and that “D” grade assumes we continue to spend at current funding levels — before sequestration.

Even before Congress gave the FAA permission to halt all airport construction funding, America faced a $12 billion increase in the economic drag caused by aviation congestion. Now that cost is going to swell.

These can-kicking costs come on top of the more immediate damage sequestration will do to the economy: 700,000 fewer jobs and a 0.6 percentage-point reduction in GDP growth for the year. The Huffington Post reported several of the mechanical details of individual agency responses to the cuts contained in today’s House report, including 500 fewer firefighters at the Forest Service and a shrunken stockpile of vaccines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.