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The Sequestration Debate Comes to the TSA

February 22, 2013 at 2:35 PM | by | Comment (1)

There's a huge Beltway debate afoot - Washingtonians like to think that people outside of DC care, but that's uncertain - regarding the probable effects of the increasingly likely sequester budget cuts. The left has been going issue by issue and insisting that cuts will be devestating. The right has been doing the same thing except concluding the exact opposite. CBS News describes this as the "will sequestration really be that bad?" debate.

Now each side has gotten around to TSA. White House officials say that the sequester will negatively impact the airport security agency. Their political opponents are saying not so much. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle, none of which is what we find so strange about the back-and-forth.

Here's what's actually is strange. TSA is broadly popular with the American public, but people who actually travel are not exactly fans of the agency. That's another way of saying that the people who actually care about the issue—and who are likely to make their decisions based on their interactions with TSA agents—often have a viceral dislike for TSA, even while they may intellectually agree that it's necessary.

So is putting TSA front and center as the victim of budget cuts really a great idea?

It's absolutely true that in theory the threat of longer lines - because of less employees - should cause travelers to freak out. But that's always the theoretical result of TSA cuts, and politicians still think it's a good idea to make noises about slashing its funding.

Maybe that's because those politicians just don't know what's popular and what's unpopular. Maybe the threat of fewer TSA agents in an airport will actually cause people to march on Washington in outrage. But we're just not seeing it. That might be a sign of how deeply moronic our debates over TSA have become—and they have indeed become deeply, deeply moronic—but we're nonetheless not seeing it.

[Photo: Staeiou / Flickr]

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TSA Cost

I think the favorable view of TSA by the average citizen would change drastically if they were told the cost. In 2011, the cost to screen a passenger was $11.38. Since the fee paid was $2.50, that means tax-payers who never step foot into an airport were subsidizing those who fly to the tune of $8.88. I recognize that's not a perfect calculation, as each connecting flight adds $2.50 to the ticket. But, regardless of the exact amount, it is a subsidy. To add insult to (financial) injury, we are subsidizing security theater, not actual security.

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