How To Lose The Sequestration Fight

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Last night, the Senate proved it can fix big problems for real Americans — so long as they’re rich, or relatively rich, or fly for business or what have you.

The short version is that late last night it took a break from its regular schedule of lacking 60 votes to shampoo the chamber carpet and unanimously passed a bill that will provide the FAA unique flexibility under sequestration — and thus halt the furloughs that have been causing travel delays around the country. Today the House will follow suit, and the White House has made it clear President Obama intends to sign it. Great if you fly. Bad, bad news if you’re on head start or rely on meals on wheels or otherwise aren’t a Priority Pass holder.

Aside the obvious iniquity, this is a big error.The point of sequestration is supposedly to create just enough chaos that regular people — people with political clout, such as, say, business travelers — demand that Congress fix it. Or as the Democrats conceived it, to create the public pressure they need to knock Republicans off their absolutist position on taxes.

Well, they got their outcry…and then promptly folded. They allowed Republicans to inaccurately characterize the FAA furloughs as a political stunt. Then without any organized effort to cast the flight delays as part of the same problem that’s also keeping poor people homeless they assented to providing special treatment to the traveling class.

So now the big, predictable opportunity to return to the sequestration debate under genuine public scrutiny is gone.

The putative concern seems to be that the White House didn’t want to be seen standing in the way of a solution — and in particular a Republican solution — to the furlough problem in order to tie these airline delays to a larger budget fight. Nor did they want to face a situation where Congress eventually dealt President Obama a defeat by passing FAA flexibility legislation with veto-proof majorities.

But that’s another way of admitting that the Republicans have more stamina in this fight than Democrats do. And it sets a precedent that sequestration’s problems — particularly those that impact the wealthy — can be fixed piecemeal by shimmying money around, instead of by raising revenue to restore finances to important government programs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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