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Congress gives FAA attention, ignores essential programs

By Mikaela Mendoza-Cardenal
On May 12, 2013

Recently, the House joined the Senate in its resolution to shift approximately $253 million to air traffic systems within the Federal Aviation Administration in a last-minute effort to alleviate airline delays stemming from furloughs of airport workers that began on April 22.

But the furloughs did not come without warning.

The sequester has been looming in the distance since the Budget Control Act passed in August 2011 and finally took effect when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to reach an agreement by March of this year. Across the board, spending cuts were put into place, including the furloughs of air traffic controllers of at least one day a week.

However, if you look to Congress, it would seem that they had no idea the sequester they planned would actually have effects. Chairman Harold Rogers denounced the FAA for supposedly not informing Congress of the impending cuts, despite receiving warnings from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood back in February.

Even amid all the confusion, the House and the Senate were able to come together and pass a resolution to relieve the effects of the sequester on the FAA. With impressive speed and unity, the Senate passed this resolution unanimously, followed by the House, which passed it with a vote of 361 to 41 on April 26.

But out of all the social programs receiving cuts, why is it that the only affected area to receive such rapid attention was an area that caters to the higher economic class?

It is as if Congress has forgotten the many social services that are also going to be facing deep financial cuts as a result of the sequester. Head Start — an education-readiness service for low-income families — estimates that 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start.

“This is so much more than just a meal,” Denise Harris, a spokesperson for Meals on Wheels, an elder assistance and hard-hit program, told the Kansas City Star. “It’s someone checking in on them every day, making sure they are OK — and giving them food.”

As a result of the sequester, teacher layoffs, cuts in career development programs, furloughs of civilian defense employees and cuts to military sexual assault prevention and response programs and substance abuse programs can be expected. Medicare patients are also feeling the effects of the sequester: many are being turned away from chemotherapy treatments in parts of the country.

These programs seem like more worthwhile candidates for Congress to focus on rather than air traffic controllers and inconvenienced travelers.

“Let’s deal with all the adverse cuts, not just those that affect the affluent traveling sector," Maryland representative Steny Hoyer said on the House floor Friday, blatantly calling out the waste of time and energy going into the resolution concerning the FAA.

The social services in question do not have enough funds at their disposal in the first place. But what is being given to the Transportation Department is speaking time on the floor and national attention. The voices of those affected most strongly by the sequester do not echo as loudly through the halls of Congress as those of airline CEOs.

“Their voice hasn’t been sufficient enough to get Washington to the bargaining table,” said Mark Zupan, dean of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester.

“It’s very muted right now. Until everyone gets heard, I doubt anything will get done in Congress on reaching a budget settlement,” Zupan said.

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