US politicians show true colours
LOS ANGELES - The outcry was too much to take. After years of near-paralysis in the US Congress brought on by partisan wrangling, lawmakers finally acted swiftly to solve a problem.
- Published: 27/04/2013 at 02:20 PM
- Newspaper section: breakingnews
Gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre? Not necessary. Immigration reform? That can wait.
But after the self-imposed financial "sequester" caused delays at US airports, legislators dropped everything and rushed through a bill on Friday to bypass aviation spending cuts those same legislators had imposed just weeks ago.
The swift response came just before lawmakers were to fly home for a one-week recess.
Through the week, thousands of flights had been delayed when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered air traffic controllers to take forced leave, reducing manpower by 10%, as spending cuts kicked in.
In airports and on runways across the land, tens of thousands of passengers fumed and blamed the lawmakers for their problems.
"What is this country coming to? We're completely dysfunctional," traveller Sam Clark said after a flight from New York to San Francisco arrived six hours late.
"I missed a whole day of meetings that could cost my company thousands of dollars in missed contracts."
The sequester, a series of 85 billion dollars in automatic spending cuts in 2013 applied across all government agencies, started on March 1.
The mandatory cuts had been intended to be so unpleasant so as to force compromise between Democrats and Republicans.
But the compromise was not forthcoming in Washington where lawmakers breathe toxic partisan air daily.
While both sides blamed each other, many political observers laid the blame on a Republican party dominated by Tea Party radicals unwilling to countenance even a hint of tax hikes to help solve the burgeoning deficit.
Until the flight delays, the cuts had hardly made an impact - apart from the suspension of White House tours and the US Navy's aerobatics team, The Blue Angels.
But there were also cuts in aid for homeless students, cuts in maternal, infant and home visiting programmes, reductions in low-income home energy assistance and closures of food banks, according to a survey conducted by the Huffington Post.
The benign explanation for Congress' rare speed of action would be the endless news reports about what NBC called a "travel nightmare".
"Just in time for members to fly home, Congress averts the one cut it cares about," wrote Alex Pareene in Salon.com.
"Move on, people who may become homeless! We fixed the airports, what more do you want?"
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank also weighed in: "As someone who's flying out of town this weekend this is very good news. But as someone who watches Washington, this kind of ad-hoc arrangement is crazy."
The White House also blasted the self-serving congressional deal.
"Congress should do the responsible thing and stop, you know, dealing with these issues from crisis to crisis and simply engage in a discussion about how we can eliminate the sequester entirely through balanced deficit reduction," said Obama spokesman Jay Carney.
Leading Republican John McCain was even more forthright about the actions of his colleagues.
"I think it's a terrible thing," he said of the flight delays. "But when we're looking at a virtual threat to our national security, we've got our priorities upside down.
"I am hell-bent, if we are going to take care of some airline passengers, why don't we take care of our national security?"
But the most telling comment came when Democratic senator Bill Nelson was asked on MSNBC if senators had passed the bill because they were about to fly home.
"You've hit the nail on the head," he said.
About the author
- Writer: DPA