I’m Sequestration — Fly Me

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A China Southern Cargo jet takes off at LAX International airport in Los Angeles Monday, April 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Just as we’re bemoaning our narcoleptic Congress (see our latest, “Do-Nothing Congress Gives Inertia a Bad Name”), the august body suddenly awakes and springs into action as if someone upped the amperage on its power massage recliners.

Of course, it turns out they were pretty much acting in their own self interest and not exactly the enlightened kind either. No, they briefly rousted themselves to alter the sequestration rules ­– the ones calling for across-the-board budget cuts –­ so that airlines and airports won’t be entangled in flight delays caused by the furloughing of air traffic controllers employed by the government’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

True, the lengthened waiting lines and extended time on the tarmac were quickly frustrating families on vacation and business travelers especially (and your elected representatives certainly don’t want to offend business, do they?), but the timing of the House and Senate ­pushing through the change just as members were about to fly back to their states and districts for a week’s recess ­was infelicitous at best. Plus, they moved the goal lines far more eagerly than they’ve been willing to do for any of the domestic social programs that already are feeling the bite of the sequester-mandated budget cuts.

The website ThinkProgress notes, “Congress has shown no willingness to provide similar relief for the families that are being hammered by sequestration in other ways,” and lists a dozen programs “that have experienced devastating cuts because Congress insists on cutting spending when it doesn’t need to — and that have been ignored by the same lawmakers who leaped to action as soon as their trips home were going to take a little longer.”

On the Campaign for America’s Future blog, Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project, describes Congress’ action as “a new low.” “Their message is clear: in the United States it’s fine to cut services for housing, health care, cancer treatment, school buses, domestic violence intervention, federal work study, unemployment, and education –­ but our planes better take off on time.”

Sequestration demands more than a piecemeal approach. Congress must cast off its confounding allegiance to zero-sum budgeting where one person’s win is another person’s loss. With all their constituents in mind, not just a powerful few, lawmakers must forge comprehensive legislation that tackles the way our nation makes our revenue, and the way we prioritize federal spending. Any member of Congress unwilling to engage in this task should locate the exit closest to them. There’s no room on this flight for useless baggage.

At The Atlantic‘s website, David A. Graham writes, “[I]t ought to be grounds for bipartisan outrage.”

“Now that the automatic cuts have actually taken place, Congress once again wants to sidestep its own work in such a way that spares a small portion of the population — a portion that just happens to include them! For conservative pols, it’s a betrayal of fiscal conservatism in the name of convenience. For liberal pols, it’s a betrayal of social equality and a surrender to austerity, also in the name of convenience. For the rest of us, it’s probably not much of a surprise.”

In his weekly Saturday radio address, President Obama said, “Congress passed a temporary fix. A Band-Aid. But these cuts are scheduled to keep falling across other parts of the government that provide vital services for the American people. And we can’t just keep putting Band-Aids on every cut. It’s not a responsible way to govern. There is only one way to truly fix the sequester: by replacing it before it causes further damage.”

As part of the official Republican response, Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, claimed, “There are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts, and to impose more tax hikes on the American people.”

Politically, Rick Klein of ABC News theorizes, “The sequester, that policy designed to be so terrible that it wouldn’t be allowed to become law, is now more likely than ever never to go away.”

“The move to undo the furloughs at the FAA, in fact, pretty much guarantees that the vast bulk of the other budget cuts won’t be going anywhere. The reason? The only way to build pressure to find an alternative budget solution would be if enough distasteful things happen to the public. If Congress undoes one at a time, and just a few — well, that sounds like a typical Washington solution these days.”

Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo was even more pointed: “The point of sequestration is supposedly to create just enough chaos that regular people — people with political clout, such as, say, business travelers — demand that Congress fix it. Or as the Democrats conceived it, to create the public pressure they need to knock Republicans off their absolutist position on taxes.”

“Well, they got their outcry… and then promptly folded. They allowed Republicans to inaccurately characterize the FAA furloughs as a political stunt. Then without any organized effort to cast the flight delays as part of the same problem that’s also keeping poor people homeless they assented to providing special treatment to the traveling class. So now the big, predictable opportunity to return to the sequestration debate under genuine public scrutiny is gone.”

Finally, just when you thought it couldn’t get any wackier, President Obama was set to enact the legislation Saturday morning, but a typo in the Senate version needs to be fixed, so the signing can’t take place until Tuesday (we’re not making this up). Despite this delay, the FAA has announced that all furloughs have been suspended and by Sunday night, the system was supposed to be back to normal.

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