Every once in a while I get an idea that is so crazy it just might work. What with all the sequester talk in Washington, it occurred to me that the Obama administration has a better option for pressuring Congress than they may have thus considered. Instead of making life hard for Americans everywhere with the across-the-board cuts (in the hopes that enough citizens will complain to the elected representatives), why not get rid of the middleman, and just make life hard for those in Congress? Announce that the very first budget cuts to be implemented will be sequestering the living heck out of National Airport.
Announce that National will only have the benefit of one air traffic controller at any single time. Further announce that the T.S.A. will only have one security checker for each security gate at a time -- so be sure to get there early! Really twist the knife and announce that parking lot security will be drastically cut back -- starting with the "members only" Congressional parking lot.
Announce that such cuts will take place next week. Further announce that in two weeks, similar (but not quite as drastic) cuts will be made to Dulles airport in Virginia and Baltimore/Washington airport in Maryland. Any and all other federal budget furloughs or cutbacks will follow these as the flagship cuts which will be made after the sequester happens.
Those not familiar with the habits of Capitol Hill denizens might wonder what all of this is supposed to achieve. What it would achieve would be massive pain and rampant headaches for those who fly in and out of National Airport on a weekly basis. In a word: Congress.
Congresscritters used to mostly live in Washington, with their families. What with cheap and reliable air travel (and what with working a noon-Tuesday-to-noon-Thursday week many weeks), Congress now mostly lives in their home district and commutes to Washington. Much of this congressional commuting takes off and lands at National Airport (note: I refuse to use the new name of National, since it was named for a Union-buster who fired air traffic controllers en masse). It is convenient as all get out for congressmen, being pretty much right next to the halls of government, over the Potomac in Virginia. The airport actually bends over backwards to provide such convenience, with the aforementioned members-only congressional parking lot, situated with the shortest-possible walk to the terminals.
Since all of America (air travelers in particular) are about to get hit with a summer of delays and frustration in the airports across the land, why not start with Congress' favorite field? Imagine the delays. Imagine the lines at the security checkpoints. Imagine the grim atmosphere Congressfolk would have to face twice a week. One week of runway gridlock at National, and then "phase two" would kick in, and Dulles and BWI would get hit as well. No escape.
Of course, some in Congress represent districts that are close enough to take other forms of transportation. Most notably, those in Maryland and Virginia who are close enough to drive home from Washington. But they won't be spared the pain, either -- they'll be quite busy fielding outraged calls from their constituents who are used to the Washington region's airports actually functioning in a normal manner. This segment of the public will bear the punishment right along with those in Congress, so the car commuters in the House and Senate are definitely going to be impacted as well (if not quite so directly).
Is this unfair to the Maryland and Virginia residents who use these three airports? Well, yes. Yes it is. Sorry about that. But the rest of us will be paying the price a little further down the road as well, since you can't solve all the budget problems with just three airports. All I'm saying is make drastic cuts to the Washington airports a few weeks early, as a demonstration.
The problem with many in Congress (and I am not even discriminating by party, here) is that they get incredibly out of touch with how the decisions they make in the halls of Congress actually affect Americans' lives. For once, shouldn't they be the first ones to feel the impact of their actions (or, in this case, inaction)? It seems entirely fitting and reasonable to me to move cuts which make life tough for Congress to the front of the line in the budget wars. Bringing the Washington area airports (starting with National) to a crawl would indeed hit home. In fact, it would hit them on their way home.
The public (at least those outside of the Beltway region) would probably support such a move. Obama could pitch it as: "Want to slash federal spending? OK, you first!" I'm sure a lot of folks would see the justice in such an approach. In my opinion, it's certainly worth a try. Want the sequester to happen? Fine. Then we'll just sequester National Airport into the ground, until it (or you) screams for mercy.
I bet it would take less than three weeks for Congress to crack.
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant