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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