With last week’s speedy fix of the air traffic controllers’ sequester cuts, it’s a wonder people complain about gridlock in Washington! The bill, which allows the Department of Transportation to move money around the department to offset furloughs, passed by a landslide in the House, unanimously in the Senate and is expected to seamlessly work its way through the White House. While the fast passage of a needed alternative to at least a portion of sequestration is welcome, this bill sets a dangerous—and infeasible—precedent for future budget discussions.
- The “FAA Fix” doesn’t fix much in the long-term. The idea of sequestration came about in order to force Congress to seriously address long-term deficit problems. The cuts were supposed to be so unpalatable to all parties that Congress would be able to swallow some tough compromises in order to avoid the devastation of the sequester. The public, however, did not put a lot of pressure on Congress before sequestration took effect, rationalizing, “’It’s not going to be that bad, and if it does get bad, politicians will scramble to fix it.’ Congress proved the skeptics right by fixing the FAA when people squawked.” This “fix,” though, does nothing to address the root cause of sequestration itself, or even the larger goal of general deficit reduction.
- This solution is not applicable on the larger scale. The bill that Congress passed does not find new money or give additional money to the FAA. Instead, it allows the Department of Transportation the discretion to move money between programs within itself, from supporting infrastructure improvement (a long-term need that will now be cut) and moving that money to the needs of daily operations. This discretion from long-term to immediate, however, is not available to most other agencies and programs. It is much more difficult for other agencies to take money from one area without actually cutting current programs.
- Addressing only a high-profile part of sequestration leaves out other necessary programs that serve those with less political voice. Long delays at airports just happened to be the cuts that affected politicians. There are still billions of dollars of sequestration left unsolved, which are currently forcing social service programs around the country to slash services, harming beneficiaries. Great, the air traffic controllers are not on furlough, but Head Start students are already being kicked out of school, seniors are facing the prospect of being forced into nursing homes because of Meals on Wheels cuts and workers seeking jobs are facing large cuts in unemployment insurance.
Our Jewish values teach us to champion the orphan, the widow and the stranger. These three categories of people in biblical times represented those without a voice. We can translate this deeply-held value into modern-day language: speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Congress cannot continue to put Band-Aids over the negative effects of the sequester when people complain loud enough. Congress must realize that there are those in our country—indeed, those being most affected by the sequester—that do not have the political voice to advocate for themselves. We must be their champion.