Sequester’s flight delays prompt congressional action

Sequester's flight delays prompt congressional action
Sequester's flight delays prompt congressional action
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I guess we now know what it takes to get Congress’ attention.

Two Senators this week proposed legislation that could stop the controversial air-traffic controller furloughs that started Monday.

Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday introduced the Dependable Air Service Act, which would authorize the Transportation Department to shift additional funds toward controllers. […]

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association applauded the bipartisan legislation, saying in a statement: “We urge swift approval of this measure so that controllers can return to work full time and passengers and carriers can operate without the threat of unnecessary delays.”

Keep in mind, the proposal wouldn’t actually solve the budget problem – in other words, it wouldn’t provide additional resources to the FAA to make up for the unnecessary cuts caused by sequestration – but it would give the agency the leeway to move some money around so that the furloughs could be curbed and there would be fewer congressionally-mandated flight delays.

It coincides with another bill, also introduced this week by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would end furloughs by scrapping a tax break for corporate jets and using the funds to reinstate affected FAA employees.

I’ll let Kevin Drum summarize the inescapable point: “The tediously obvious point to make about this is that Congress can’t do much more than yawn about cuts to services for the poor, but a few days of air traffic delays and they’re practically tripping over themselves to offer up solutions.”

Yep, Congress had very little to say when the sequestration cuts kicked children out of pre-K, denied low-income seniors the benefits of Meals on Wheels, cut housing aid to struggling families, and even added new burdens to cancer patients. But flight delays – affecting wealthier people and lawmakers themselves – are a bridge too far.

To make the other tediously obvious point, the sequester is a painfully stupid policy that hurts the country on purpose. It was designed to cause deliberate pain for no good reason. I don’t much care which issue touches a nerve with lawmakers – though I wish Head Start lotteries offended them as much as a few hours on a tarmac – so much as I care that Congress at least consider ending this madness before it does more harm to more people.

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered a sensible alternative on Monday, giving Congress a chance to turn sequestration off for five months, and the White House endorsed the approach yesterday.

Congressional Republicans said yesterday they are not open to the possibility.

Postscript: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) complained this morning that the sequester’s military cuts are what really matter.

“I’m terribly uncomfortable with the delays of FAA, I think it’s a terrible thing … But when we’re looking at a virtual threat to our national security, we’ve got our priorities upside down,” he said at a Christian Science Monitor event. “I am hellbent, if we are going to take care of some airline passengers, why don’t we take care of our national security?”

There’s some merit to this, but the larger point is that everyone can apparently think of their own reason why sequestration is a terrible policy. So there should be broad support for turning the damn thing off.