The Democrats blinked in the sequester tussle -- by wide margins Congress passed, and the president promised to sign, legislation that would end the furloughs for Federal Aviation Administration employees, which had caused flight delays that Republicans claimed were politically motivated by the Obama administration.
Saturday's New York Times lead story by Jonathan Weisman admitted a victory for the GOP, but he could not hide his liberal bitterness in "House Approves Bill Seeking End To Flight Delays – G.O.P. Claims A Victory – Exceptions to Broad Cuts Allows Shift of Funds to Traffic Control." Neither could the paper's editorial page. Weisman wrote:
President Obama and Congressional Democrats on Friday abandoned their once-firm stand that growing airport bottlenecks would be addressed only in a broader fix to across-the-board spending cuts, accepting bipartisan legislation that would bring the nation’s air traffic control system back up to full strength.
Republicans claimed victory. “Consider that the Democrats’ opening position was they would only replace the sequester with tax increases,” Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, said in a memo to members before the vote. “By last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted ‘cut this, not that’ approach. This victory is in large part a result of our standing together.”
Weisman played populist:
The action also brought charges that lawmakers known for gridlock could move only when affluent travelers like themselves felt the sting of Congress’s indecision and that the struggles of lower-income Americans affected by the spending cuts were being ignored. House members who have cleared precious little legislation this year made swift work of the air travel bill minutes before flying out themselves for a weeklong break, a pile of cars stacked up behind the Capitol waiting to ferry them to Washington’s airports.
“We’re leaving the homeless behind,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont. “We’re leaving a lot of National Guard folks behind. We’re leaving seniors who depend on Meals On Wheels in the dust. Children who rely on Head Start can teach themselves to read. That’s basically what’s happening.”
Republicans -- and some Democrats -- had been pushing for much of the month for a rescue of the air traffic control system. But lawmakers who wanted a separate budget rescue for the F.A.A. met resistance from some lawmakers who questioned why air travel was being rescued when children were being thrown out of early education programs, food safety inspections were being curtailed and checks to the long-term unemployed were shrinking.
Weisman eventually got around to the GOP's argument that Obama and the FAA were playing self-fulfilling politics with the delays, though he tried to refute it.
Republicans continued to assert that those delays were intentionally inflicted on the traveling public by a White House eager to press its political point.
“We’re here today because this administration has decided to put politics over passengers,” said Representative Rodney Davis, a freshman Republican from Illinois, who said the administration already had the flexibility to save the air traffic controllers.
But even Republican aides said that was not true. Under sequestration rules, all program categories faced cuts, and backfilling the narrow category “air traffic operations” at the Transportation Department took Congressional action.
The Times editorial page also favored Obama's plan to hurt travelers. Opinion Journal's James Taranto mocked an April 24 editorial:
In an extraordinary editorial the other day, they defended the administration for inconveniencing air travelers, and in the process opened up a new class-war front: The Times sobbed on behalf of "voiceless people" who supposedly benefit from "housing vouchers....Head Start slots....antipoverty work" whose spending is being trimmed as a result of the sequester. The idea is that it's somehow unfair to treat these as lower priorities than air traffic control. But why shouldn't Congress prioritize programs or agencies that benefit those who pay for government?
The Times issued another amazingly hostile class-war editorial on Saturday, "Congress Rushes to Aid the Powerful," snarling at "people with money" and "the gift to travelers" passed by Congress, as if business travelers had done something wrong, when in fact they're the ones paying for the programs the Times wants to pile on to the taxpayer's bill.
Congress can’t pass a budget or control guns or confirm judges on time, but this week members of both parties found something they could agree on, and in a big hurry: avoiding blame for inconveniencing air travelers. The Senate and House rushed through a bill that would avert furloughs to air traffic controllers, which were mandated by Congress’s own sequester but proved embarrassing when flights began to back up around the country.
Catering to the needs of people with money, such as business travelers, is the kind of thing the country has come to expect in recent years from Congressional Republicans. But Democrats share full responsibility for this moment of cowardice. The Senate version of the bill passed by unanimous consent. That means not a single Democrat opposed bailing out travelers while poor kids are getting kicked out of Head Start or nutrition programs.
Does the Times truly think that a politically motivated plan to hurt business travelers with airline delays won't hurt the economy? And what's wrong with trying to help the people who actually pay the taxes that make programs like Head Start possible?
And since when is it a "gift" not be treated as a political pawn?
In the House, only 29 Democrats voted against the gift to travelers, which was made possible by switching some funds for airport improvement into the controllers budget. One of the few willing to brave the Republican attack machine was Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, who said he could not support repealing a piece of the sequester while preserving its harmful impact. “Seventy thousand children will be kicked out of Head Start,” he said. “Nothing in this bill deals with them.”