Last night, after just several days of complaints from flyers—who had to deal with airline delays—the Senate rushed to pass the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, which give the Federal Aviation Administration the power to avoid sequestration by shifting money and avoiding furloughs for air traffic controllers. The House did the same today. Given the number of flights, and the time lost from delays, it’s a decent solution to a real problem.
It’s also incredibly frustrating.
The sequester has been a disaster. The indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending have harmed kids in Head Start, workers on unemployment benefits, and families in Section 8 housing. It’s on track to remove tens of billions from the economy, both in spending cuts and in lost output, as people lose jobs and cut back on their consumption.
But none of this has moved Congress to act. Instead, Republicans continue to use the sequester as a political tool, attacking Obama for cutting spending they like, and touting it when it cuts spending they don’t.
That is, until the sequester begins to harm valuable constituents, i.e., businesspeople and other frequent flyers affected by the FAA furloughs. Then, Congress—and Republicans in particular—will rush to fix the damage. It doesn’t help that this comes just a day after lawmakers skipped a hearing on mass, long-term unemployment—one of the key problems facing the country.
Whenever pundits or politicians call for cuts to the social-safety net, it usually includes a pitch for “shared sacrifice.” The idea is appealing; if we have to make painful decisions, it’s only fair if everyone is affected. But the fact is that there is no shared sacrifice. As soon as the wealthy and connected begin to feel discomfort, Congress is there, ready to address their concerns.
If only the rest of us were so lucky.