Finally, Congress Finds Something to Agree About

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Congress is finally being roused to do something about the sequester. Part of it, anyway:

Complaints about air-travel delays in recent days have prompted Democrats in Congress to reconsider their strategy for dealing with across-the-board spending cuts.

….”We have to admit that some things are very problematic,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), who on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) designed to give the Department of Transportation more flexibility to manage the cuts with the goal of reducing furloughs at the FAA….Another Democrat, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, on Wednesday announced legislation that would reinstate air-traffic controllers using funds generated by ending a tax break for corporate jets. Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware said he would prefer to generate additional user fees to keep the travel system running at full capacity for the next five months.

“The public’s going to be furious when they find out that this could have been prevented,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.), who supports the bipartisan proposal to give the Department of Transportation more flexibility in dealing with the FAA cuts. The aviation agency has said it can’t avoid furloughs in the course of complying with the mandated budget cuts.

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. Why is this? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Flight delays affect lawmakers themselves, and they’re not happy about being personally inconvenienced.
  • Flight delays affect the rich and the upper middle class, and as Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens have taught us, these are the only voters that legislators actually care about.
  • Flight delays affect the media, so they write about it relentlessly.
  • Flight delays are an annoyance for everyone who flies. Other cutbacks are parceled out differently: most beneficiaries continue to get full benefits, while a small percentage lose access completely.
  • Flight delays are random, which adds to their annoyance.
  • Airport havoc is just generally more visible than most things.

You will be unsurprised to learn that I mostly chalk this up to items 1-3, especially item 2. Feel free to argue in comments.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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