This FAA Sequester Vote Doesn’t Smell Right

April 26th, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Well, well.  It appears that both the Senate and House have voted to end sequester-imposed furloughs of air traffic controllers, just in time for the weekend.

You choose: is this bipartisan support to mitigate one of the noxious effects of sequestration, which I and others have been tracking?  Or is it papering over the high-visibility stuff that affects the affluent while lots of other budget bleeding goes on beneath the radar?

I choose the latter.  While the annoyance of flight delays caught the attention of elected officials, businesspeople and other frequent flyers, lots of other, less advantaged Americans will continue to feel the pain of the sequester due to cuts in a variety of programs.

My CBPP colleague Sharon Parrott outlined some of the people outside of airport security lines facing sequestration-induced hardships:

  • Jobless workers losing unemployment benefits. Sequestration requires every state to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed.  So far, roughly 800,000 workers in 19 states have seen their benefits cut by…about $120 a month, on average.  When all states implement these cuts, they will affect as many as 3.8 million jobless workers.
  •  Children losing Head Start. …Already, some Head Start programs are cutting their programs for the current school year — dropping children from the program, ending the school year several weeks early, or cutting services such as bus transportation.  These cuts can leave families scrambling to find alternatives for their children.  The Associated Press reports, for example:

“At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts.”

  • Seniors losing Meals on Wheels. Some seniors programs in various states are cutting the number of home-delivered meals provided or seniors served.  In central Maine, for example, the agency on aging has started a waiting list for seniors and cut the number of weekly visits to seniors receiving meals from two to one.
  • Low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities losing housing assistance. CBPP estimates that 140,000 fewer households will receive vouchers to help them afford decent housing.

House Democrat Rick Larsen summed this up well in Politico yesterday:  “…no 3- or 4-year-old is going to call my office and say, ‘I’ve been kicked out of Head Start, replace that money.’”

I get hit by air delays a lot and I hate it.  But this vote doesn’t smell right.  If this boneheaded approach to budgeting remains in place and policymakers continue to cherry pick which sequester-related problems they’ll fix—they’ll be the ones that bug the public the most—that means everything else will have to be cut back that much more.  And that will inevitably be the stuff that matters most to the poor and unemployed, who lack the political voice, access, or visibility to stop the cuts.

Bin Appelbaum of the NYT got to the essence of the thing in a tweet: “Maybe unemployed people should try standing on runways.”  See you there…

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16 comments in reply to "This FAA Sequester Vote Doesn’t Smell Right"

  1. Tom Huston says:

    And Obama should veto this, but I read he will sign it. I am really starting to lose respect for this guy. I just don’t get why he doesn’t hold firm.


    • Figs says:

      I wish he could have vetoed it, but it passed with overwhelming support, which would easily have overridden his veto. At that point, his team probably judged a symbolic veto to be a hit he didn’t need to take that wouldn’t gain him anything.


  2. Dave says:

    I was going to say essentially what Tom said. I think Jared did the right thing getting out from under an administration that doesn’t defend the people’s values.

    This kind of ‘change’ is enough to turn some cynics into conspiracy theorists.


  3. oh4real says:

    Maybe not standing in the runways, but you know what would get similar attention? What if unemployed people, about to lose benefits in this jobless recovery, went to airports en masse, across the country and got in security lines, without tickets. If they clogged the security lines then claimed they lost their ticket and went to another TSA check point to slow that one down too.

    I don’t know the legality of queuing up for TSA without a ticket, but a mass, non-violent protest like this would inconvenience passengers, including elites with Congress on speed dial, and airlines. I dare say the media would cover it.

    Oh, and those who can arrange it, should bring their children that were kicked out of head start.


  4. Jill SH says:

    Chris Hayes had the best solution last night:

    http://video.msnbc.msn.com/all-in-/51682711
    (Start at 7:50)

    here is what i wish could happen today. i wish every single cancer patient and every kid who is getting kicked out of head start and every person losing a job at a government facility because of cut backs or furloughs. every family losing section 8 housing assistance. i wish every single one of them could have gotten together and bussed by the thousands to all parts of the country to reagan national airport and rolled out on to the runway and strung out in a line that stretches across the entire field so that those planes carrying members of congress who just cast this vote couldn’t take off. how is that for inconvenience, senator?


    • Dave says:

      Great idea. But the people in question don’t have the money or the time to do what you say.

      Lobbyists are payed by others. The person with the agenda doesn’t need to spend their time or their energy pushing their message, they just outsource it.

      You are asking American workers to compete with outsourcing, and they can’t do it.


  5. Perplexed says:

    Wow, your olfactory perception must be extraordinary! I can’t really smell any difference from this and bank bailouts, get-out-of-jail-free cards, mortgage write down opposition, stimulus spending opposition, safety net attacks, regulatory opposition, gun safety opposition, campaign finance revision opposition, patent reform (or elimination) opposition, opposition to reforming the medical industrial and prison industrial complexes etc., etc.

    Since the smells are all from the same source, I find it all but impossible to distinguish between them!


    • Perplexed says:

      Interesting how this follows the same logic as unemployment isn’t it? Rank everyone by political power, and then distribute the losses to the least powerful. Is there a formal name for this fundamental principle of political economics?


  6. Rima Regas says:

    California’s unemployment office sent out a notice last week that they would be reducing benefits by 17% for those whose benefits are extended or started after April 29th.

    I hope President Obama does the right thing and vetoes this monstrosity.


  7. Bill Gatliff says:

    The FAA de-sequestration vote is more pandering to the people who pay campaign bills. And it’s been so successfully marketed, it would be career suicide for any politician to oppose it.

    But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: opponents could easily make hay by pointing out how inequitable the benefits of this reversal are distributed, compared to the other impacts of sequestration which remain in place. Obama could easily say that he’s signing the bill because any improvement is better than no improvement at all, but that on principles alone it deserves his veto.

    But no sensible politician will do that. They want to look like they are achieving positive work, rather than minimizing negative work. The latter isn’t good for career growth. And the electorate will put up with it because politicians keep us too busy looking for and keeping work to have spare time for such discussions.

    And THAT is something that we could use this bill for: to stimulate productive talk by citizens at all levels about what services we want to deliver collectively through OUR government, and how to pay for them. It’s a golden opportunity.


  8. wendy beck says:

    Our President has handed the Republicans a victory in allowing the sequester to be lifted for the FAA so that travelers won’t have to wait in line. Or at least that’s how the Republicans and the NYT are portraying it:

    “GOP Claims Victory as Bill to Curb Flight Delays Passes”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/us/politics/congress-passes-bill-to-end-flight-delays.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

    I love all the suggestions for the poor, unemployed, disabled, seniors and children to clog the lines at airports, but if we’re real, we know this action sends a message that the Congress and the President just don’t care and the American public is amusing itself to death.


  9. Bespectacled Grasshopper says:

    I agree this doesn’t pass the smell test. Why is it ok to “fix” the flight delay problem? Inconvenience, lost economic opportunity… that’s exactly what we get by cutting government spending via sequester. Everyone should be made to feel the pain where the ax lands…


  10. Joe says:

    The same flexibility this gives the FAA should be given to all departments impacted by the cuts. Keep in mind this bill does NOT increment spending one penny. It simply allows for intelligent distribution of the cuts within agencies and that same intelligence should be expanded.

    Obama has threatened to veto flexibility in order to maximize pain and try to force the Republicans to accede to additional tax increases to replace spending cuts. Hopefully he will allow departments heads management flexibility to deal effectively with budgets that still reflect an increase in year over year spending.


  11. David says:

    Come on Jared – please show me the long-term studies that Head Start actually results in benefits to children.


  12. Mike says:

    I still think the prime motivator behind this is the fact that Senators and Congresspersons are themselves frequent flyers who were facing long lines when their time is oh so valuable.


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