In an inspiring burst of action, congressional committees grilled the heads of federal agencies in charge of Head Start, Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and Medicare, and demanded answers: “Why haven’t you informed us that the automatic sequester cuts we voted for are forcing poor kids out of preschool, starving the elderly, creating more homeless families and denying treatment to cancer patients? One Congressman fulminated, “This was a surprise to the Congress, to the world!”
And so, in a last-minute, bipartisan deal Thursday night, senators voted unanimously for a “fix,” and the House approved it today. While the fix won’t alleviate all the sequester’s damage, it will mend the worst holes in the safety net. These Congress members simply weren’t going to fly home for the weekend without doing their best to assure that not one more child go hungry or one more family homeless.
Okay, that didn’t happen—at least not for poor, homeless, and sick people. But the Senate did scramble late Thursday to unanimously pass a resolution to end the FAA furloughs that were causing air traffic delays. “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key architect of the bill, was cheered by the last-minute agreement struck after most senators fled town on Thursday ahead of a weeklong recess,” Politico writes. “ ’It’s nice to know that when we work together we really can solve problems,’ Collins said on the floor after the bill passed.”
Now, the airport delays, caused largely by furloughing air controllers, are no small matter—the sequester delayed 863 flights on Wednesday alone—and the pain goes far beyond the airline industry and inconvenienced passengers. According to one estimate, prolonged furloughs could have cost billions in lost economic output and tax revenue, and threaten tens of thousands of jobs (effects that, as usual, hit the poor first and worst).
But Congress’s targeted fix—achieved by moving funds from one part of the FAA budget to another—allows lawmakers to ignore the vastly more severe damage to the economy, jobs and people’s lives that they created by voting for the mindless, austerity-driven sequestration in the first place.
Most of the sequester’s devastation goes unseen by the public, because, unlike the brave Beltwayers who can save airports at a moment’s notice, the sequester’s victims are not power players. See, for starters, these two Nation pieces: “A California Town Bleeds From Sequestration’s Cuts,” and “How Sequestration Hurts the Homeless” with “up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving housing vouchers, more children exposed to lead paint, higher rent for people who can’t afford it and a rise in homelessness.” Then add in the estimated 70,000 low-income children who are getting kicked out of Head Start, the 4 million fewer meals delivered to homebound seniors via Meals on Wheels, and the massive cuts to Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) and other food assistance programs.