Last week, both parties in Congress demonstrated they live in a bubble that includes frequent flyers but does not include the poor or the sick.
Both the House and Senate on Friday passed legislation allowing the agency to shift $253 million from other accounts to end furloughs that began five days earlier. Elected officials then scurried to airports to catch a flight home.
Funding for the Federal Aviation Administration is “welfare” in much the same way as funding for Head Start.
In both cases, tax revenue from the U.S. population is being used to provide benefits for a small subset of that population. In both cases, Congress has concluded the subsidy serves the national interest.
America does not want planes crashing and it does not want generational poverty. While there is an arguable inequity in forcing people who do not fly to subsidize those who do and in forcing those who are not impoverished to subsidize those who are, Congress long ago decided the national benefits trumped any unfairness.
The sequestration deal that was necessary to convince the U.S. House to raise the debt ceiling intentionally limited the executive branch’s discretion in absorbing budget cuts. The idea was for the cuts to hurt both parties politically, forcing them to agree on a budget.
A flaw in the plan is that most of the pain has been felt by those who are invisible to politicians.
Children whose best path out of generational poverty was Head Start preschool programs must stay home. Medicare recipients with cancer are missing chemotherapy treatments. Food pantries closed. The long-term unemployed saw a reduction in benefits. Meals on Wheels stopped delivering food to many elderly clients.
This is the human tragedy of Washington gridlock.
People who are poor and sick have no political voice. They are too overwhelmed by their existence to expend the energy necessary to attract the attention of elected officials. They cannot afford to make political contributions. They do not run in the same social circles as their elected representatives, and no wonder. The median estimated wealth for members of the House of Representatives is $746,000, 13 times that of the median American household. The median estimated wealth for senators is $2.6 million, 46 times that of their constituents.
The people most hurt by sequestration are outside the bubble.
Frequent flyers, however, are inside the bubble. Members of Congress depend on timely flights, as do those with the money to contribute to their campaigns. Politicians’ friends resent airport delays. Airport delays are entirely irrelevant to most parents with children in Head Start, but it’s a topic that has dominated cocktail chatter in the circles that many politicians frequent.
The whole point of sequestration was to create enough pain that Congress was forced to act. It is a national embarrassment — a mark of shame for both parties — that the pain that triggered action had nothing to do with the poor, the sick or the elderly.
Congress felt the call to action only when frequent flyers were inconvenienced.