Periodically, the CBPP's Jared Bernstein publishes new installments of his "Sequester Watch" series, helping document the real-world consequences Americans are facing as a result of the ongoing, needlessly stupid sequestration cuts. The latest list is a doozy.
Three of the largest federal agencies will close to the public on Friday, the first time since the government shutdowns of the 1990s that large corners of the government have ceased operations on a weekday.
The mass furlough of 115,000 employees at the Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the small Office of Management and Budget -- 5 percent of the federal workforce -- is happening because of the budget cuts known as sequestration.
Ed Kilgore added this morning, "Now this is very old news if you are, say, a Meals on Wheels beneficiary denied services, a parent of a child in Head Start who didn't make the cut, someone trying to survive on a smaller unemployment check, or an employee of a government contractor who has made anticipatory furloughs or layoffs. But today they are joined by 115,000 fellow-citizens who can proudly say they've contributed to a symbolic victory over a largely imaginary enemy."
For what it's worth -- and in my dreams, it's worth quite a bit -- the sequester is being felt by an increasingly large segment of the population. New Washington Post/ABC News polling found that 37% of Americans say they've felt a negative impact as the result of sequestration, which may not sound like much, but that's pretty good size chunk of the population, and it's growing. The same poll found that most of the public also opposes the policy, regardless of party affiliation.
It reached the point this week in which House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), looking ahead to an ongoing sequestration problem, called the situation "idiotic."
So here's a wacky idea: why not turn the darned thing off? House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters yesterday, with a straight face, that job creation remains his party's "number one priority." I find that literally unbelievable, but Boehner can easily prove me wrong -- the sequester is set to cut U.S. job creation by 750,000 jobs this year. If lowering unemployment is House Republicans' "number one priority," why not stop sequestration and give jobs a boost?
Head Start programs have been slammed nationwide by Republican sequestration cuts, and Community Action in Topeka, Kansas is no exception -- it's considering a plan "that will close one pre-school class, eliminating 20 enrollment slots for pre-schoolers," and "close one Early Head Start class, cutting 8 infant/ toddler slots."
As one might imagine, local families aren't pleased, but their member of Congress has an explanation for the mess.
What made this particular news segment notable was the lawmaker who appeared in it to argue that these outcomes could have been avoided.
"None of those cuts have to be made there," Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) told the station. "That is a choice by the administration, so we are going to continue to put pressure on the administration."
Jenkins is terribly confused, and it's unfortunate that she appeared on local television repeating a message that isn't true.
Let's set the record straight. The whole point of the sequester policy was to mandate inflexible, across-the-board cuts. Jenkins should understand this -- she voted for it.
This is not "a choice by the administration" -- newsflash: the Obama White House supports universal pre-K, not steep spending cuts to Head Start -- the specific purpose of the policy is to ensure it isn't up to the administration.
Jenkins has this backwards.
There was a Republican proposal to change the nature of sequestration before the deadline, in which the size of the cuts would be left intact, but it would be dependent on the Obama administration to figure out where to make them. Congressional Democrats, not surprisingly, failed to see this as a credible compromise; the White House didn't want these politically perilous obligations; and many on the right didn't like the idea of the legislative branch turning over "power of the purse" to the executive branch for the sake of convenience.
In other words, it didn't pass.
If Jenkins doesn't like these Head Start cuts, I'm delighted -- I don't like them, either. But instead of deliberately misleading the public about who's responsible for the cuts, perhaps she should endorse scrapping the sequester and ending these needlessly stupid cuts.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hosted a town-hall meeting in his district this week, and heard from a constituent who works for the Environmental Protection Agency. Racine resident David Novak explained that, thanks to the sequestration cuts, he's lost thousands of dollars in income for no reason, and he's set to lose even more.
"This was is something the president has done through the Budget Control Act. We didn't like it so we passed two bills to replace it. Twice. I passed a bill twice. I passed a bill in December that said instead of doing the sequester, here's how the government should cut to pay for it. They rejected it.
"Then this last March we passed a bill funding the government and giving the executive branch the authority and flexibility on top to implement the sequester. The EPA chose to implement it this way to affect you as you described."
Now, I can't say with certainty whether Ryan deliberately lied to his constituent, or whether the man with the worst memory in American politics simply couldn't recall the truth well enough to given an honest answer.
Either way, I hope the voters at the town-hall meeting weren't fooled. President Obama didn't want the sequester; Paul Ryan did. In fact, Ryan might not remember this, but he bragged about securing the sequestration cuts at the time. A politician can take credit for a policy or he blame someone else for it, but when he does both, there's a problem.
And what about the other claims? House Republicans passed two sham bills -- before this Congress -- to replace the sequester, but they weren't serious attempts at policymaking and were not intended to become law. The bill in March didn't solve anything and wasn't a credible response to Democratic efforts to find a compromise. And to blame the EPA for the budget cuts Congress imposed on the EPA is pretty silly.
Oh, and Ryan also neglected to mention to the EPA employee that the Ryan budget plan guts the EPA. Maybe the congressman forgot?
Highlighting the many missteps of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is generally a little too easy, but there's a larger significance to this latest gem.
"There were numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future. And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line: 'Thou protestest too much.' Didn't you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That's why we voted against this bill."
Now, most of the commentary around the quote, which Bachmann uttered on the House floor, mocked her for butchering Shakespeare. But the more salient point is that the congresswoman was lying.
To hear Bachmann tell it, she and many of her Republican colleagues knew the sequestration cuts would do so much damage, they voted against them out of their deep compassion towards the American people. They "knew" the sequester would cause "calamities," so they "voted against this bill."
Except, whether Bachmann understands reality or not, that's completely at odds with what actually occurred. She and many of her far-right colleagues voted against sequestration, not because they thought it cut too much, but because they thought it didn't cut nearly enough. Her new argument, while creative, is brazenly dishonest, even for her.
But in the larger context, it's easy to understand how Bachmann might get confused. At this point, Republican rhetoric on sequestration is starting to sound an awful lot like Gollum talking about a certain ring.
Republicans love the sequester; Republicans hate the sequester. Republicans think the sequester is a great idea; Republicans think the sequester is a terrible idea. Republicans think they came up with the sequester; Republicans think they didn't come up with the sequester. Republicans believe the sequester is doing no damage to the country; Republicans believe the sequester is doing too much damage to the country. Republicans are for sequestration; Republicans are against sequestration.
We're reaching new levels of ridiculousness here. Republican lawmakers came up with the idea, then condemned it, then embraced it, then blamed President Obama for it, then celebrated it as a "victory," then condemned it again when it started delaying flights, then embraced it again.
For our benefit, they need to first understand the policy, then take steps to mitigate its damage. It's time to put the ring aside and do the right thing for a change.
Over the weekend, the official weekly Republican address boasted about the party's success in turning back sequester-caused flight delays. "Republicans kept the heat on using every available platform, including Twitter, with the hashtag ObamaFlightDelays," Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) crowed. "The pressure worked."
The claims came on the heels of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gloating over the resolution of the FAA fight, telling Fox News, "I mean, it was just a 100 percent loser for the president and the Democrats."
Well, maybe not 100 percent.
The Pew Research Center polled on the controversy, asking Americans who they hold responsible for the flight delays. A 34% plurality blamed congressional Republicans, while 32% blamed the Obama administration. Another 10% blamed both, while about one in four didn't know (via Greg Sargent).
What's more, in the same national survey, only about 15% of Americans said they followed news about airport delays and the furlough of air-traffic controllers very closely.
I suppose Republicans can take some solace in the fact that they weren't blamed even more -- they're not a popular bunch -- but in light of the results, Priebus' boasts look pretty silly.
The news may surprise the RNC, but it appears misleading hashtags are not quite enough to sway public attitudes and get people to believe claims that are not true.
FAA furloughs caused by the sequester were resolved late last week, after Congress leapt to action to stop flight delays nationwide, but that didn't stop the Republican Party from using its weekly address to condemn the Obama administration's handling of the issue anyway.
It was an odd message, accusing the White House of engaging in a conspiracy -- President Obama, it said, wanted to "inflict pain" on the public on purpose -- and lying about the policy's origins. The GOP message also suggested the Republicans' Twitter hashtag helped resolve the problem, which is a pretty silly argument.
But the fact that the party's weekly message was devoted to sequestration in the first place reinforces a larger point: the policy is back in the national spotlight. Indeed, President Obama devoted his weekly address to the same topic.
For those who can't watch clips online, Obama argued that this policy is about more than just delayed flights.
"Congress passed a temporary fix [for the FAA]. 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. It's not a responsible way to govern. There is only one way to truly fix the sequester: by replacing it before it causes further damage. [...]
"I hope Members of Congress will find the same sense of urgency and bipartisan cooperation to help the families still in the crosshairs of these cuts. They may not feel the pain felt by kids kicked off Head Start, or the 750,000 Americans projected to lose their jobs because of these cuts, or the long-term unemployed who will be further hurt by them. But that pain is real."
The "Band-Aid" point is of particular significance because there's renewed clamoring in Washington right now for a series of related "fixes." Soon after the sequester took effect, Congress delivered a reprieve for meat inspectors; then the military was given some additional leeway; then the FAA was permitted to move funds around. Now, all kinds of industries and agencies are wondering, "What about us?"
The smart move would be to either kill or replace the policy that's hurting the country on purpose. That's easier said than done.
Part of the problem is that Republicans have not yet decided whether they like the sequestration cuts themselves. Late last week, GOP officials continued to celebrate the sequester, which the party has long characterized as a "victory." But in the party's weekly address, the Republican message was that sequestration "is bad policy" and "the wrong way" to go.
The party is going to have to make up its mind. If it's "bad policy," why is the GOP boasting about its efficacy? For that matter, why aren't Republicans working on a solution?
As for the larger political dynamic, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus continues to gloat over the resolution of the FAA fight, telling Fox News on Friday night, "I mean, it was just a 100 percent loser for the president and the Democrats."
A whole lot of center-left pundits agree. Ezra Klein argued the other day:
Sequestration was supposed to be so threatening that Republicans would agree to a budget deal that included tax increases rather than permit it to happen. That theory was wrong. The follow-up theory was that the actual pain caused by sequestration would be so great that it would, in a matter of months, push the two sides to agree to a deal. Democrats just proved that theory wrong, too.
Agreed. When Republicans recommended sequestration, Democrats assumed the GOP would be uncomfortable undermining the U.S. military in a time of war, but in reality, Republicans now seem entirely unconcerned. Democrats also assumed the GOP wouldn't want the blame for hurting the country deliberately, but as it turns out, Republicans don't much care about that either.
And with that, the Democrats' perceived leverage on this fight faded quickly. Indeed, the Republican message has descended into complete incoherence -- celebrating their policy when it hurts the poor, blaming the White House for their policy when it hurts anyone else -- and neither the GOP nor the political establishment in general seem to care at all.
It makes the odds of a legislative remedy unlikely.
But insofar as accountability matters, the original sequestration sin was not in Democrats recently making miscalculations about the Republican capacity for shame; it was two years ago when this deeply stupid policy was crafted in the first place. Jon Chait's take on this rings true:
Obama's mistake wasn't the design of sequestration. It was finding himself in that negotiation to begin with. Earlier this year, Obama refused to negotiate over the debt ceiling, and Republicans caved and raised it. If he had done that in 2011, they would probably have done the same thing. Instead, Obama took their demand to reduce the deficit at face value and thought, Hey, I want to reduce the deficit, too -- why don't we use this opportunity to strike a deal? As it happened, Republicans care way, way, way more about low taxes for the rich than low deficits, which made a morally acceptable deal, or even something within hailing distance of a morally acceptable deal, completely impossible.
By the point at which Obama figured this out in 2011, the debt ceiling loomed and it was too late to credibly insist he wouldn't negotiate over it. Sequestration was a pretty good way to escape fiscal calamity. The mistake was getting jacked up over the debt ceiling in the first place.
I'd quibble a bit with Jon's characterization of the details -- he makes it sound like Obama was comfortable with congressional Republicans using the debt ceiling to hold the nation's wellbeing hostage, but that's not quite right. The president didn't have much of a choice, and he tried to make the best of a bad situation, assuming GOP officials weren't bluffing at the time and were willing to shoot the hostage (i.e. us).
But the larger point is sound -- the sequester was predicated on the assumption that Republicans would negotiate in good faith, consider sensible compromises, and take steps to avoid deliberate harm to the nation. Since those assumptions were misplaced, the dispute was a one-sided fight from the beginning.
To close the circle on an issue we discussed this morning, the House voted 361 to 41 this afternoon to pass the Senate bill ending FAA furloughs that delayed air travel throughout the country this week.
The bill will now go President Obama, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he will sign it into law.
Cantor's memo Friday morning, passed along to TPM by a leadership source, cited headlines about Democrats "blink[ing]" first in the FAA delays battle and the White House "scrambl[ing] for damage control." It also quoted a tweet by Roll Call reporter Steven Dennis calling the legislation "a complete, utter cave by Senate Democrats and, if signed, by the White House."
"This victory is in large part a result of our standing together under the banner of #Obamaflightdelays," Cantor said.
Well, sort of. The FAA resolution keeps the spending cuts, but gives the agency some discretion to move other money around to make up the difference. That's why it's seen as a "cave" -- Democrats have said they want to either turn off the sequester or replace it with a balanced compromise. This does neither.
Democrats accepted it anyway because they just wanted to make the problem go away quickly, and say it does not reflect how they'll deal with future sequestration negotiations.
But if we think about this just a little more, Cantor's bravado is misplaced, at least a little. For one thing, Republicans "scrambled" just as quickly this week, fearing they might get blamed for the delays, too. It's precisely why they launched such an aggressive public-relations campaign, hoping to divert responsibility for the spending cuts they claim to love.
For another, the legislative remedy also makes clear that the "Obama flight delays" talking point was a rather blatant lie from the outset -- according to Republicans, it was the Obama administration's policy that caused the FAA furloughs. This wasn't true, and the legislative fix helps prove it -- if this was a White House policy, why did Congress need to intervene to fix it?
As for the larger discussion, I'm still looking forward to Cantor -- or anyone else among congressional Republicans -- to explain why flight delays are intolerable, but the other consequences of sequestration aren't worth Congress' immediate attention.
At this point, I don't think there is a Republican position, per se, on sequestration cuts. As we talked about the other day, GOP lawmakers came up with the idea, then condemned it, then embraced it, then blamed President Obama for it, then celebrated it as a "victory," then condemned it again when it started delaying flights.
All things considered, though, it appears Republicans are for the sequester at least to the extent it gives them a policy outcome they consider worthwhile. Igor Volsky flags this quote from Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas this morning.
"I really think the FAA and many of the other agencies are trying to figure out how they can make things as painful as possible to the public. And it reminds me of a spoiled brat kid. You take away some of his stuff and, you know, he starts screaming. They don't want any cuts period. [...]
"You know, you can knock sequestration or not knock it, but it's worked in the sense that hit has forced reduction in spending. And I've been here 11 years and this is the first time I've seen it in this manner, in the sense that it is something that's actually working."
What an interesting argument. By cutting spending, Congress has succeeded in cutting spending. As sequestration defenses go, Boozman's approach at least has a certain tautological beauty.
But in terms of grown-up policymaking, this just isn't a responsible approach for a U.S. senator to take.
For one thing, government spending was already cut, before the sequester. For another, to accuse the FAA for deliberately making conditions "as painful as possible to the public" is a deeply silly conspiracy theory, unsupported by the facts.
But even putting that aside, as we've discussed several times, the sequester is taking a terrible toll on the nation -- hurting everything from the economy to cancer clinics, the military to education -- and independent economists have projected the policy will cost the nation in upwards of 750,000 jobs this year.
But it's "working"? If cutting spending is an a priori value, sure. To hear Boozman tell it, cutting spending is good, therefore it's good that the sequester has cut spending. But what I would hope is that those responsible for shaping public policy would consider the question with a little more depth -- the policy is "working" for whom? Are Americans better or worse off? Is the economy going to be stronger or weaker?
The Senate moved quickly Thursday evening to help ease the Federal Aviation Administration's ability to handle automatic spending cuts set forth in the sequester.
Senators unanimously approved the "Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013" -- a patch to fix the deep cuts that have furloughed air traffic controllers and delayed flights across the country.
The bill gives the FAA authority to spend up to $253 million of money already in the FAA's budget -- but not allocated to pay for other things -- to keep employees on the job and make sure more flights are on time.
The measure didn't even face a Republican filibuster -- it just passed by unanimous consent. It will now move to the House, where it's scheduled to be brought to the floor today. It will be considered on something called the "suspension calendar," which means it'll need a two-thirds majority to pass, but proponents appear optimistic.
To clarify an important detail, the "Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013" does not allocate funds to replace the budget cuts and end the furloughs, but rather, gives the FAA the authority to move around other funds within its existing budget to make up the difference. In this sense, it's a win for Republicans -- Democrats have argued that when it comes to ending the sequestration fiasco, Congress should either turn it off or replace it with a balanced compromise. The GOP line, meanwhile, has been to put the onus on the Obama administration to make the cuts work. It's a relatively tiny slice of the pie, but the FAA fix is in line with the Republican approach.
So why did Democrats go along? Because they were just looking to solve this problem quickly, and this was the path of least resistance.
Procedural considerations notwithstanding, we're still left with an unnerving examination of Washington's often twisted priorities.
When the sequester started kicking children out of pre-K, Congress did nothing. When this stupid policy denied low-income seniors the benefits of Meals on Wheels, Congress barely noticed. When sequestration cuts put new burdens on cancer patients and cut housing aid to struggling families, most of Congress shrugged its shoulders.
But when business travelers ran into flight delays on Monday, a unanimous Senate approved a fix without breaking a sweat on Thursday.
I have no special fondness for FAA furloughs or disrupted air travel, but when Republicans pushed for sequestration, the goal was to create a policy that would hurt the country on purpose. What's more, it's proven to be quite effective -- millions of Americans have been affected and continue to feel the pinch.
But it appears that lawmakers are also mindful of which Americans are affected and what kind of inconveniences the political world is prepared to tolerate. Children being thrown out of Head Start centers is a shame, but wealthier air travelers waiting on the tarmac for a couple of hours is a travesty in need of swift congressional intervention.
The problem with the deal to end the airport delays -- as with so many of the other ways the sequester has been eased -- is that it does away impact of the dreaded FAA cut without an alternative that would be roughly as painful for the affluent. It treats the delays as a kind of gratuitous sideshow to the sequester fight when in fact they're really the whole point. "The public's going to be furious when they find out that this could have been prevented," Republican Senator Dan Coats complained to the [Wall Street Journal]. Exactly. And it was only then that they would have had the moral standing to judge the rest of the sequester.
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.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) appeared on MSNBC earlier, and while the interview covered a fair amount of ground, I was especially struck by his assertion that FAA flight delays, caused by sequestration budget cuts, were orchestrated deliberately by the Obama administration.
Speaking during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Toomey said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was purposely delaying flights to inconvenience airline passengers in the hopes that they would side with Democrats in Washington's budget fights.
"The administration is clearly manufacturing a crisis for political gain," Toomey said.
Toomey isn't the only Republican lawmaker saying this, and every time I hear the argument, I find it more difficult to understand.
Apparently, Toomey and other conservatives think there's some sort of conspiracy: President Obama and his team want to inconvenience the public on purpose, in part to show how important government spending is, and in part so that Americans will be annoyed enough to pressure Congress to end the stupid sequester policy.
Oddly enough, Republicans don't make this argument when it comes to other areas -- health care, education, public safety -- affected by sequestration, though they did use similar talking points to complain about White House tours.
In this specific case, Toomey and others in his party believe the FAA may be facing across-the-board cuts, but the furloughs -- which in turn lead to flight delays -- are unnecessary. "The president's choosing to make this disruptive," the Republican senator said.
As conspiracy theories go, this is pretty weak tea.
As we discussed yesterday, Sam Stein explored the policy details and found the Republican arguments unpersuasive.
The reasoning behind the FAA's decision to apply a one-day-every-two-weeks furlough to all 47,000 employees -- including 15,000 flight controllers -- is also not as simple or political as Republicans argue. The FAA has to cut $637 million from its budget before the end of September, with every account sliced by the same percent. The FAA's operations account, from which 71 percent of all payments goes to salary, can't avoid the chopping block.
Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told The Huffington Post that his boss believed the president and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could save money elsewhere in the FAA budget without unnecessarily delaying air travel.... But specific programs that could be cut as a replacement for the money saved by furloughs are hard to pinpoint.
What's more, Glenn Kessler examined the same argument and said the Obama administration, not congressional Republicans, appears to have the facts on its side.
If Toomey believes the spending cuts are causing a "crisis," he needs to understand it's a legitimate one, not a "manufactured" one.
And if the senator and his party don't like this damaging policy, it's within their power to take Harry Reid's offer and turn it off.
For the last couple of months, congressional Republicans were content to ignore the consequences of their sequestration policy, celebrating the deep budget cuts as a "victory." Now that it's causing severe flight delays as the FAA begins furloughs, Republicans have suddenly discovered they don't like the sequester after all. Indeed, they're now blaming President Obama, suggesting some kind of conspiracy is afoot -- the White House wants air travelers to suffer to make some kind of point about the value of government spending.
The New York Times' editorial board seems bemused by the cognitive dissonance.
As it happens, the sequester law is clear in requiring the F.A.A. and most other agencies to cut their programs by an even amount. That law was foisted on the public after Republicans demanded spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling in 2011. Since then, the party has rejected every offer to replace the sequester with a more sensible mix of cuts and revenue increases. Mr. Boehner is so proud of that strategy that he recently congratulated his party for sticking with the sequester and standing up to the president's demands for tax increases.
But drastic cuts in spending carry a heavy price. Republicans certainly don't want voters they care about -- including business travelers and those who can afford to fly on vacation -- to feel it.
It is curious to see what captures the GOP's attention. When Head Start centers are forced to adopt lottery systems, forcing children out of pre-K, and low-income families lose housing vouchers, Republicans are indifferent. When business travelers are stuck on tarmacs, Republicans launch a national p.r. campaign. It's almost as if the party commends cuts that hurt the poor, but leaps into action when those with more resources are inconvenienced.
Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has offered his GOP colleagues a way out of this mess: Congress can turn off the sequestration cuts for five months, restoring the funds to the various agencies, by drawing upon the Overseas Contingency Operation fund set aside for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fund contains several hundred billion dollars.
So, is this the sort of offer that could help fix, or at least pause, the stupid and damaging policy? Of course not -- Republicans immediately rejected the idea.