Way back in August of 2011, Congress passed a law called the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling, enacted a tranche of spending cuts, created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, and then imposed on that committee a set of conditions that would trigger this thing known as "the sequestration" -- a series of deep cuts to military and domestic programs -- should that committee fail to come to an agreement on further deficit-slaying cuts and revenue-raisers.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hailed it as a massive "cultural change" in Congress. Somebody decided that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction should be called the "Super Committee," predicting "super" things to come. Those "super" things never materialized. The Super Committee failed, and the sequestration went into effect.
But apparently, lawmakers are only now figuring out that the law they passed that included the triggering of massive cuts to a wide variety of government services actually, you know, does some stuff. According to Roll Call's Niels Lesniewski, some lawmakers are in a literal state of "confusion," having been "somehow caught off guard by the extent of the problem caused by the sequester."
Who knew, right? Laws be all mad complicated, dude! Why didn't anyone warn Congress that when a bill becomes a law, it causes things to happen and whatnot? Per Lesniewski:
Lawmakers' confusion over the issue has been on full display this week, as they grapple with the fallout from forced furloughs of air traffic controllers. Indeed, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has become the main target of criticism from both parties over the past few days, as air travel delays mount.
At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday morning, Chairman Harold Rogers blasted the FAA for not providing sufficient information about the looming cuts.
"Not a word, not a breath. You didn't forewarn us that this was coming," the Kentucky Republican said. "You didn't ask advice about how we should handle it. You didn't inform the Congress of this sequester impact and what you plan to do about it. In fact, the entire administration has done the same thing."
Not a word! Not a breath! Unless of course -- as reported by Lesniewski's Roll Call colleague Steven T. Dennis -- the stuff that came out of the mouth of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood back in February of 2013 was a set of oxygen-enabled, vocalized phonemes, arranged into what is colloquially referred to as "the English language":
"What I'm trying to do is to wake up members of the Congress on the Republican side to the idea that they need to come to the table, offer a proposal so that we don't have to have this kind of calamity in air service in America."
LaHood said members of Congress would quickly feel the heat.
"Your phones are gonna start ringing off the hook," LaHood predicted.
LaHood said a majority of the FAA's 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers, would face furloughs of one day a week and, in some cases, two days a week, to close a $1 billion hole sequester would create in the Department of Transportation's budget.
An FAA list actually showed more than 200 airports that could lose their towers. Another 60 larger airports would lose overnight shifts at their towers. LaHood said he expected airlines would cancel flights or move them to less busy times.
At the time, LaHood cautioned that lawmakers had but a "30-day window" to "prepare people" to make the necessary adjustments. This was, I guess, miles beyond the intellectual grasp of lawmakers, who are now today basically yawping at each other in dumbfoundment, "People mad! Planes be all hurty! How did this happen?"
Of course, as every non-idiot knows, the dire consequences of sequestration have been with us for some time. Lawmakers just basically slept through the lost housing subsidies and the cuts to Head Start and the cuts to workplace safety programs and the cuts in the criminal justice system and the many, many employees who have already been furloughed -- basically everything the sequestration did with the exception of the lost White House tours. What has changed? Well, as Alex Pareene explains, "once flights everywhere" started getting "delayed and canceled all the time, for no good reason," Congress was going to start hearing about it from people the lawmakers actually care about (not poor or middle-class people, I mean):
"Shuttle flights between Washington and New York were running 60 to 90 minutes late," the [New York] Times reports. Do you know who takes weekday shuttle flights between Washington and New York? People who think they are too important for the train, let alone the bus. People Congress listens to. (People Congress is, also.)
Members of Congress are more likely to fly commercial than attend school on an Indian reservation. Their rich constituents, the only ones they listen to, are more likely to fly often than their constituents who, say, rely on federal housing vouchers.
This has really been a banner week for Congress. In addition to having their rude awakening about the fact that the law they passed actually does the things it was intended to do, a hearing held this week by the Joint Economic Committee to discuss the nation's absolutely cataclysmic long-term unemployment crisis began with precisely one lawmaker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), in attendance. The rest were presumably playing with blocks.
This is why when President Barack Obama says things like, "This was a pretty shameful day in Washington," it's like saying, "The day ended in the letter 'y.'"
NOTE: This post lacked a link to Steven T. Dennis' February 2013 story when it was published. It was amended after publication. The omission was inadvertent; the fault was mine.
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