Lessons from the FAA Debate: Don’t Let Congress Forget About Our Communities

With sequestration now upon us, and with no plans to replace it anytime soon, we are left with a sobering reality- that these cuts are here to stay. Virtually every American will be affected in some way, from children losing Head Start to seniors losing Meals on Wheels. Significant reductions in affordable housing programs will put thousands of Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian families at risk of homelessness. We’ve heard policymakers describe sequestration as simply “devastating”, and for many low- and moderate- income American families, these cuts will be exactly that. 
But a little more than a week ago, something peculiar happened. First, the FAA announced flight delays due to sequestration cuts, stoking public frustration. In response, a bill flew through both Houses of Congress just days later asking the FAA to shift cuts to air traffic controller salaries from airport improvement accounts, eliminating the furloughs and preserving the sanity of millions of travelers. 
A happy ending for travelers, but this reveals some truly troubling facts about how Congress is apparently looking at sequestration:
  • Congress will cave to appease an annoyed public on visible issues. While delays are a nuisance for those that can afford to fly, thousands of underserved children, students, seniors, and low-income families stand to lose much, much more from sequestration – like a college education or a place to live. Unfortunately, those that stand to lose the most are also some of the least visible (and the least likely to cause flight delays anytime soon).
  • Congress set a dangerous precedent by allowing the FAA to move specific cuts around. It worked out for air travelers this time, but it is still unclear how Congress will determine which programs to save and which to leave underfunded (unless it’s purely media attention?). Remember that the total amount of cuts cannot change. This is a zero-sum game and every restored program will result in a deeper cut elsewhere. 
  • This decision undermines the intended purpose of sequestration as an unpalatable consequence for inaction. If Congress simply picks and chooses which cuts are convenient to enforce, there may be more discussions on which programs to cherry pick and less on reaching an actual comprehensive, bipartisan agreement for deficit reduction. And as small fixes come, those in support of a balanced approach lose leverage in negotiations with deficit hawks that only want to see cuts.
Sequestration has been an ugly process, and these recent developments cast more doubt on the ability of these across-the-board-cuts to actually bring policymakers to the table. This piecemeal method of addressing sequestration sets a dangerous precedent and could shift the burden of sequestration even further onto underserved, low- and moderate-income families.
But last week did show us that public outrage can force Congress to move. So get outraged! Tell your Member of Congress what you think. We cannot continue the economic recovery by leaving students, seniors, and low-income families behind. Our communities should not have to stand by and suffer quietly while Congress does everything within its power just to fly more comfortably.
Find your Members of Congress and tell them today what must be done to protect our communities.
Elevating stories from our community puts a face to the burden Sequestration is placing upon struggling families. Tell us your story!