In a stunning example of how Washington can get nearly anything passed in a few hours if it really wants to, the House has overwhelmingly approved a measure that will allow the Department of Transportation to transfer up to $250 million to keep the 149 FAA air traffic control towers set to close as a result of the sequestration open through November.
The Senate passed the same bill Thursday night by unanimous consent and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said the president will sign it.
For many on the left, this decision shows that the president is losing the debate on the automatic budget cuts he agreed to in 2011 in order to end the debt limit crisis. The so-called “sequester” is designed to inflict pain so that the cuts would be averted or ended quickly. Since they’ve gone into effect, Head Start programs for poor kids have been cut, veterans programs canceled and public housing assistance delayed.
But flight delays as a result of FAA cuts were the first instance of the pain of the cuts hitting elites like members of Congress and those who have their collective ear. And less a week after the delays began, Congress has found a way to comfort those affected by them.
The New Republic‘s Noam Scheiber understands why Republicans wanted to do this, but not Democrats:
Pretty much the only response conservatives could muster was to cry cynicism—that Obama could have shielded air traffic controllers from the cuts, but simply chose not to in a Marxist effort to heighten the contradictions. “The White House claims … it lacks flexibility,” The Wall Street Journal bleated on Wednesday. “Not so: This is a political pose to make the sequester more disruptive.” Alas, in the history of PR fights, “you caused this” (the Democratic argument) has never lost to “you didn’t do enough to stop this” (the Republican claim). I doubt this would have been the episode that broke the streak. If Democrats had held firm, they wouldn’t just have won this particular sequester skirmish. They may well have forced the GOP to junk the entire godforsaken sequester itself.
Carney said the vote was “Good news for the traveling public,” insisting that the White House would not deal with the rest of the sequester in a piecemeal fashion.
“But ultimately, this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester’s mindless across-the-board cuts,” he said.
“Flight delays are just the tip of the iceberg on sequestration,” said House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), who noted the impact on children, veterans, seniors and the disabled.
The theory behind austerity has been destroyed but nothing — not poor job or economic growth — has motivated Congress to reverse its course on cutting spending like a few flight delays.
Maybe unemployed people should try standing on runways.
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) April 26, 2013
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite