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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 53.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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CITIZEN DAVE

Citizen Dave: Obama surrenders his leverage without a fight in the air traffic deal


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Sometimes it's not a good thing to be a reasonable man in an unreasonable environment.

Over and over again, that has been the problem faced by President Barack Obama. This most practical of men has trouble adapting to the irrational nature of politics.

Case in point: the air traffic controller controversy. In the battle over sequestration, Obama knew that there was little pain that average Americans would feel immediately from the forced $85 billion in budget cuts. But Americans who are young and need an early hand up through Head Start, and Americans who have been long unemployed and need their benefits to continue while they look for work, and many of those same Americans who need housing and job training programs are more or less invisible to much of the rest of America.

So, what was one thing a lot of middle class voters would experience? Flight delays when air traffic controllers were forced to take unpaid furloughs. It would seem reasonable to fix that problem and not incur the wrath of people who vote.

But that was also the teachable moment when Obama would have the chance to say: "Look, I'm not going to budge on air traffic until Congress fixes the rest of the problem. I'm not going to abandon the kids and the poor and the unemployed who need a helping hand. We're all in this together. Just deal with it."

But Obama is not a "just deal with it" kind of guy. The first flight delays were hardly minutes old when he caved. Congress passed and the president agreed to sign a bill that not only restores the air traffic budget, but does it in a way that's even more fiscally irresponsible. The bill takes $253 million away from airport improvement funds to pay for the controllers. That's not a sustainable solution. What will we do next year? Take another quarter of a billion dollars from the improvement fund? What's going to happen when there's no money left to fix runways?

You can see more of this kind of thing coming. Cutbacks at national parks as summer arrives? Congress and the White House will probably fix that one too. Over time, they will sift through programs and restore full funding to the ones enjoyed by middle Americans. That part is okay. After all, middle America pays most of the bills. The problem is that by not imposing any pain on the middle, we allow those most in need of government programs to fade even deeper into the background.

Obama can only get what he wants out of a determined Republican House by being willing to spend some political capital with middle America until they deal comprehensively with this and other problems. He may even have to appear to be unreasonable.

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