If you've spent hours waiting on a tarmac recently, you might be cheering the news that Washington is ending the shortages of flight controllers caused by sequestration.
Dig a little deeper though, and this short-term fix shows just how messed up our government has become. Unfortunately, that's especially bad news for entrepreneurs.
First, some quick background. In 2011, Congress and President Obama worked out a budget deal with a doomsday provision: $1.2 trillion in looming federal cuts. The idea was that these looming, drastic cuts would spur both sides to act. Of course, neither side did anything to avert the crisis, and in March, the measure that was supposed to be unthinkable, "didn't just become 'thinkable.' It actually became the law."
Among the results: the Federal Aviation Administration furloughed 10 percent of its flight controller workforce. That led to long flight delays, and that led Congress to decide to act.
If you're flying over the next few weeks, you probably won't have to wait as long. That's great! But, the whole episode shows how short-sighted, unpredictable, and flat-out flailing our government has become, and that's much worse. Whether you agree with a particular government policy or not, governing stability is an entrepreneur's ally, and we're just not getting it.
So, here are five things to think about when you're waiting for your next flight:
1. Flying is special in Congress.
Imagine you're a member of Congress representing a district in, say, Texas, Oregon, California, or even someplace in New England--anywhere more than a few hundred miles from Washington. No matter how little you may have in common with some of your fellow officials politically, you all share one thing:
You spend a ton of time on airplanes.
Roughly 500 senators and congressmen waiting extra hours in airports every week just wasn't going to happen. Congress might not be able to move on gun control, immigration reform, or the budget. But as CBS's Margaret Brennan pointed out, they ended the delays, "just in time to catch their own flights out of town for spring vacation."
2. A few weeks counts as long-term thinking.
This flight controller problem didn't come out of nowhere. In fact, a very wise columnist listed it back in February as number four out of six reasons why you should care about the sequester.
This shouldn't be surprising, considering that sequester was born out of brinkmanship, and that our government has spent the last year or so narrowly averting one looming shutdown after another. But maybe it would be a good idea if government acted a little less like a kid who doesn't pay his cell phone bill until it gets shut off every month.
3. First World Problems come first.
As comedian Louis C.K. puts it:
People come back from flights and tell you a story like it's a horror story... They're like, 'It was the worst day of my life. We didn't board for 20 minutes and they made us sit there on the runway for 40 minutes.'
Oh really? What happened next? Did you fly in the air, incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight?
Flight delays are a bummer, but they fall pretty squarely into the category of First World Problems. That seems to be a recurring theme. Among the great legislative achievements of Congress recently is another law regulating how loud television commercials can be.
4. Things that affect Congress move to the front.
See the "Flying is special" rule, above. If you want to get Congress to address an issue, find a way to make it relevant to them.
Last week, Politico reported that Congress is trying to get itself exempted from the Obamacare heath care reform law. Last month, Sen. Rob Portman announced he's now in favor of gay marriage, after learning that his son is gay.
One of my favorite examples of this goes back to 1999, when Congress acted to stop one of the scourges of the early Internet age: cybersquatting. Why? An Internet pioneer acquired a bunch of domains including Sen. Orrin Hatch's name, and then tried to sell them to the senator's campaign.
5. Piecemeal fixes defeat the whole point.
I fly a lot and I hate waiting, so I'm glad to see the flight controller issue fixed. But, there are a lot of other cuts that probably won't get fixed anytime soon--for example, cuts to treatment for cancer patients.
The strategy behind sequester was that it would finally force everyone--Democrats and Republicans, the Administration and Congress--to work together. That failed miserably, and now selectively fixing parts of it makes it easier to kick the can even further down the road.
Meantime, the sequester is a real drag on the economy, with defense and other government spending down, unemployment staying steady (and pretty grim) and families losing housing vouchers and unemployment check[s].
Sadly, that's bad news for anyone who wants to start or build a company.