As President Obama prepares to sign a bill ending the wildly unpopular air traffic controller furloughs, lawmakers once again find themselves the targets of familiar criticism. But this time, it’s for an unfamiliar reason–acting too quickly.
The Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to approve the bill, Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, and the House passed it with overwhelming support on Friday. The measure suspends employee furloughs–a forewarned consequence of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester–by allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to shift $253 million from other accounts.
When it comes to this Congress (and the last one), “unanimous” and “support” aren’t words you hear very often. Soon, questions were raised as to why Congress took action on this effect of the sequester and not on other programs that were hurt–like Meals on Wheels or Head Start. Criticis said lawmakers acted so quickly only because the flight delays directly burdened them and other wealthy travelers.
“The speed with which Congress made this decision last week, and the near unanimity of the decision speaks volumes about who the real priorities are for the members of Congress,” said Democratic strategist and BET columnist Keith Boykin on NewsNation Monday. “On the one hand, you have gun background check legislation that took months and months, and still didn’t get the support of Congress, even though 90% of the American people support it. But then you have this bill for FAA furloughs, because members of Congress need to travel and business people need to travel, and suddenly within 24 hours, both houses of Congress are able to pass this legislation.”
The FAA was forced to furlough 13,000 air traffic controllers beginning last Sunday among its 47,000 employees. About 40% of last week’s flight delays were a result of too few controllers in towers, said the FAA. Airports resumed normal operations as of late Sunday night, even though typos delayed the bill’s delivery to the president for signature.
Though he intends to sign the fix, President Obama blasted lawmakers in his weekly address for insisting on spending cuts, and then maneuvering to redress the ones that applied to them.
“Maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted on these cuts finally realized that they actually applied to them too,” said President Obama in his address posted Saturday. “So 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.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney echoed the president’s call for Congress to take meaningful action on ending the sequester. In his daily briefing Monday, Carney said:
“We hope that Congress would show the same kind of unified passion when it comes to helping families whose kids are getting kicked off of Head Start; or seniors who are losing access to the Meals on Wheels program; or families whose breadwinners have lost their jobs because they are involved in defense industries or in military communities; or overall, the 750,000 people who won’t have jobs because Congress decided, or Republicans specifically decided, that sequester was a good idea, a political victory, a way to shore up their base and win praise from the Tea Party. Bad policy begets bad consequences, and that’s what we’re seeing.”