WASHINGTON – Congress acted with unusual dexterity last week in resolving issues that air travelers were facing as a result of sequestration, and Democrats now want lawmakers to act with similar haste in aiding other sectors dealing with across-the-board budget cuts.
The House and Senate tapped into some unused Federal Aviation Administration funds on Friday to make sure the nation’s 15,000 air traffic controllers avoided furloughs of up to 11 days each before Sept. 30, an occurrence that would have led to massive flight delays and cancellations across the country.
Now critics of sequestration, implemented in March when Congress and the White House were unable to strike a deal to reduce the nation’s deficit, are demanding that Washington come up with ways to similarly bolster other programs, many of which, they note, help people who earn significantly less than those who can afford a plane ticket.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, opposed the FAA deal because it “fails to address the whole impact of sequester.”
“We ought not to be mitigating the sequester’s effect on just one segment when children, the sick, our military and many other groups who will be impacted by this irresponsible policy are left unhelped,” Hoyer said. “Instead of dressing this serious wound with a small Band-Aid, let’s get to work on a real solution, let’s go to conference, let’s get a big deal, let’s deal with all the adverse consequences of sequester, not just those that affect the powerful air travelers of America. We ought to help them, but we ought to help everybody else as well.”
Republicans, many of whom have learned to embrace sequestrations as a means to slash federal spending and cut into the $16.8 trillion national debt, dismissed the objections and countered that the air traffic controllers’ situation was intentionally ginned up by the Obama administration to create thousands of hours of travel delays and rally opposition to the agreement.
“The disruption to America’s air traffic system over the past week was a consequence of the administration’s choice to implement the president’s sequestration cuts in the most painful manner possible,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “It’s unacceptable that the FAA chose not to plan for sequestration or utilize the flexibility it already has. Americans were rightly fed up, and it’s unfortunate that the House and Senate were forced to step in and fix the problem when the president chose not to act.”
The action taken by Congress, Boehner said, will assure that air travelers “will no longer be burdened by President Obama’s flight delays and our economy will not take an unnecessary hit.”
The White House, he warned, must “learn how to do more with less.” He said that while sequestration is “bad policy,” Obama has “an obligation to implement these cuts in a way that respects the American people, rather than using them for political leverage.”
As a result of sequestration, 70,000 children will not be able to participate in Head Start, according to Democratic critics of the plan. Furloughs will force delays in processing retirement and disability claims. Four million fewer Meals on Wheels for seniors will be delivered. About 600,000 people will be dropped from the WIC program that provides healthcare and nutrition to low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of 5.
Sequester also means 125,000 fewer Housing and Urban Development rental assistant vouchers will be distributed, critics continue. Emergency unemployment insurance will be cut 11 percent for 2 million of those out of work. There also 2,100 fewer food safety inspectors as a result and there are expected to be longer waits to approve new drugs. The Internal Revenue Service has furloughed about 89,000 workers, many of whom are charged with assisting 97 million taxpayers.