September 21, 2014

For Once, Congress Works at Jet Speed

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

While Congress last week rushed through a measure to ease the effects of its automatic spending cuts on air travel, it unfortunately failed to fix the damage the budget sequester is inflicting on many other government programs and services.

Rather than addressing the larger problems they have created, elected officials have simply demonstrated that they can move with unusual speed to protect powerful constituencies – and themselves – from the unpleasant consequences.

The automatic spending cuts were designed to be so problematic that the prospect of them taking effect would force Congress to approve a more responsible plan to curb the growth of the federal debt. Congress failed to come up with an alternative, however, and allowed the automatic cuts to finally take effect March 1.

As Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) explained in voting against last week’s quick-fix legislation: “We ought to address the entire impact of the sequester by replacing it with a balanced mix of targeted spending cuts and additional revenues.”

Across the political spectrum, there have been pleas for selective relief from the sequester for everything from defense spending to safety net programs to other possible Federal Aviation Administration cuts. There was even an outcry in Congress over the suspension of White House tours, with some of the loudest complaints coming from some lawmakers who claim to be great champions of austerity.

Congress and President Obama, having provided selective relief from the sequester for federal meat inspections last month and now for air traffic control, can expect many more requests for special treatment in the weeks ahead. Instead of slapping budget Band-aids on here and there, however, they should focus on a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to fiscal reform.