Safety, jobs ammo in budget wars

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Don’t look now, but Chicken Little is flapping around Washington shouting “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.” Or maybe it is the politicians running around shouting “safety” and “jobs” in every comment about the budget disagreement. Whatever position is taken on the budget, safety and jobs are used to justify that position.

The recent incidents with air traffic controllers napping during the late night hours gave both sides of the budget discussion ammunition for their arguments. Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) sent a letter to Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation, stating his concerns about the FAA’s fiscal year 2012 budget on “critical safety issues.” He added that while he supports fiscal restraints on the federal budget, any “across the board cuts…have a real safety implication and cannot be ignored.” Rockefeller, who chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, told LaHood that he opposes any cuts that threaten the safety of our nation’s air transportation system.

Over in the House, Representative Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said the FAA reauthorization and reform act of 2011 “will have dire consequences on our nation’s infrastructure, jobs, and economy.” He stated the bill would reduce maintenance and safety enhancements, hurt small airports, and cut 70,000 American jobs.

Congressman Jerry Costello of Illinois, ranking Democrat on the House Aviation Subcommittee, said about the same bill that “it compromises safety.” Budget cuts, he declared, would cause hundreds of aviation safety personnel to be furloughed, weakening the inspection force and hurting the economy. Costello also has said “Congress cannot roll back FAA funding to 2008 without harming safety.”

When the House passed the reauthorization bill, which is still pending in the Senate, Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said it saves $4 billion by streamlining and consolidating FAA programs and facilities and “does not negatively impact aviation safety.”

Testifying before a House Appropriations Subcommittee, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the president’s budget for fiscal year 2012 “is designed to maintain and enhance operational safety.” He added the additional investment will improve efficiency, reduce environment impact, and create thousands of jobs.

It is not only in the aviation field where safety and jobs are the popular terms. At a recent hearing by the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, the chairman said they were preparing to draft major transportation and jobs legislation.

We have heard just the beginning of “jobs” and “safety.” Between now and September there will be many, many times these words will be used to slow down spending or to increase it. Politicians know that how to get reelected is to promise what the public wants or to scare them about what they fear.

Aviation has both. General aviation, particularly, serves to let business provide jobs in many fields in all sizes of communities. Although street and highway accidents account for 40,000 deaths a year, aviation will continue to be the highest profile for the word “safety.” It has been this way ever since Orville turned to Wilbur and said “let’s make another one.”


Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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