Well, we have entered 2013 with some extraordinary political theater here in Washington, D.C. We at AOPA remained vigilant successfully preventing any measure adverse to our interests from creeping into the debate. And, while I am not sure how many people were really watching this drama, many news organizations were following the actions with breathless minute-by-minute updates. One of the best lines (and perhaps the most accurate) suggested that “the people who are talking don’t know, and those that know aren’t talking.”
So, the latest actions by Congress seem to have prevented going over the fiscal cliff in a free fall and provided a ramp for a slow descent. Only in Washington could well-intentioned people congratulate themselves for doing something meaningful which most believe is inadequate and the latest official budget estimates suggest will add billions to the deficit.
Yet these actions should prevent the imposition of dramatic budget reductions in the 2012-2013 budget for the time being. For the aviation community, these cuts could have had serious impact at airports and in our control towers. Failure to act certainly had the potential of disrupting the progress on modernizing our air traffic control system.
Perhaps of even greater significance, failure to act would have threatened the economy and made prospects for economic growth even more remote.
So, a path forward was found and for that we should be grateful.
However, what we must realize is that the path forward will take us down a road to yet another large debate that the new 113th Congress must consider within the next few months. In this debate, budget reductions will be demanded as the price of supporting a debt ceiling increase necessary to continue funding federal government operations.
I see many challenges in this next debate. Some in the Administration suggest they will look for more revenue. Members of Congress will insist on dramatic spending reduction. While all of this will be called for in an effort to promote a stronger economy, there will be risks in this debate for our general aviation community.
In addition, while this debate plays itself out over the next few months, the President is required to submit to the Congress his 2013-2014 Federal Budget Plan. Given the statements made during 2012, we have every reason to believe that the Administration will come in search of more revenue from the general aviation community and their search seems to focus on operational user fees.
Are we better off having been spared from a plunge off a fiscal cliff? Undoubtedly we are. Can we lessen our resistance to ill-advised revenue measures injurious to general aviation? Absolutely not!
The drama that has been played out in Washington, D.C as we have entered the New Year seems only to have moved the deep and serious budget challenges down the road. There were some who believed that this round needed to focus on the tax issues and they suggested the spending debate could be fought in February and March around the debt ceiling debate. Whether or not we like it, this is the scenario that has played itself out. The coming debate on spending is likely, in my view, to be even more difficult than the debate we have just gone through.
The bottom line is we have our work cut out for us as we travel this path that has been set with the actions taken on this first day of 2013.