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Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Will Political Dysfunction Do To America's $1 Trillion Annual Tourism Industry?

The Administration thinks that by next weekend the relatable face of sequestration for thousands in the middle class will be painful airport travel. Long, long lines and miserable delays and inconvenience. Republicans, the s&m party, think it's their job to add pain and suffering to people's lives.

When I was president of Reprise, a division of AOLTimeWarner, we had several sleek private jets at our disposal. I spent a lot of time in New York and in London and flying privately, rather than hassling at an airport, was deliciously convenient. In all my years at the company, though, I never ordered up one of the planes-- not once. It was just too expensive. I always thought it was just stealing from the owners (the stock holders) and that the money would be better used in breaking a new artist. Don't get me wrong... when one of my colleagues was taking the plane and invited me along, I never turned it down. I loved it. It just was never going to come out of any Reprise budget. Once 2 presidents, a chairman, a CEO and a bevy of senior vice-presidents went on a month-long tour of our European affiliates. We went to Paris, Hamburg, Milan, Madrid, Dublin and London and I think I did side trips to Amsterdam, Brussels and Stockholm. Man, there are no words to describe that kind of convenience. The ease of travel was something to marvel at. But it must have cost a fortune.

The people who have the most to say about decisions like the Sequester have their own planes. They tell Boehner and Miss McConnell what they want done. The campaign the Administration is doing to give the Sequester a dysfunctional airport face is laughable to them. Will it matter to GOP backbenchers who start hearing from business travelers?

Ray LaHood is still Secretary of Transportation and he used to be a Republican congressman from Illinois. More than half the Republicans in Congress served with him. He's warning them that this is going to be bad. Friday he predicted chaos at the nation's (public) airports, primarily because thousands of FAA employees-- including air traffic controllers-- will be furloughed to save money. 
"This is very painful for us because it involves our employees, but it's going to be very painful for the flying public," LaHood said.

"Obviously, as always, safety is our top priority and we will never allow [more than] the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land, which means travelers should expect delays," he added.

"Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff."

..."At [the Department of Transportation], we will need to cut nearly $1 billion, which will affect dozens of our programs," he continued.

"Over $600 million of these cuts will need to come from the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that controls and manages our nation's skies. As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of FAA's nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year and, in some cases, it could be as many as two days."

LaHood said the FAA has begun preparing airlines and unions about the possibility of furloughs for FAA workers. But he said the effects of the cutbacks would be felt most by airline passengers.

LaHood said members of Congress would likely receive complaints from frustrated passengers who are dealing with flight delays.

"As a former member of Congress, I heard complaints all the time from my constituents when their flights were delayed or when their flights were canceled," he said. "Nobody likes a delay. Nobody likes waiting in line. None of us do."

LaHood acknowledged that the White House was seeking to gain a political advantage on congressional Republicans with his dire warning about air travel, even as he denied the administration was using scare tactics about sequestration.

"The idea that we're just doing this to create some kind of scare tactic is nonsense," LaHood said.  "We are required to cut a billion dollars. And if more than half of our employees are at the FAA... there has to be some impact. That's the reason we're announcing what we're announcing."
Tourism is likely to be hard hit as an industry in general. The $110 million dollar cut to the national parks system won't do much to help reduce the deficit but it will mean shuttered campgrounds, shorter seasons, road closings and reduced emergency services
Great Smoky Mountains National Park will close four campgrounds. The Grand Canyon National Park will shorten visitor center hours at the South Rim. Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts will close its visitors center and restrict access to large sections of the Great Beach. And Yosemite and Yellowstone will delay summer road openings up to four weeks, according to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which said it obtained the details from sources in the park service.
Conservative have always opposed the national park system anyway and in recent years have advocated to selling it off piece meal. And, over the years, friends of mine who have worked served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have told me Republicans are generally contemptuous and mistrustful of anything foreign. They don't understand the role of foreign tourism on many American cities that cater to foreign visitors, like New York, L.A., Miami, Las Vegas, El Paso, San Antonio, Honolulu. U.S. State Department Consular offices around the world are already operating with serious backlogs of unprocessed visa applications. Sequestration would force a significant increase in wait times for these documents and ports of entry would also be affected, both in terms of the waiting time for passengers to clear immigration and customs, and in terms of the parts and goods imported into American markets. The net impact of these cuts are not going to save money, thy're going to cost money... and lots of it over a long period time and rippling through the economy.

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