WASHINGTON -- When the Senate voted last month to ease the effects of sequestration on the Federal Aviation Administration, not a single senator opposed it. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) conceded Wednesday that votes like that defeat the purpose of imposing the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, which are supposed to be so painful that they spur lawmakers to replace them completely with more thoughtful cuts.
"You know, it's really a quandary," Reid said of addressing sequestration in a piecemeal fashion, during a sit-down with reporters. "The air traffic control thing was really extremely difficult. But we did what we did."
Reid said he still hopes that lawmakers can come up with a replacement for sequestration, but said other groups are already asking for special arrangements for dealing with the cuts affecting them. He specifically cited the Pentagon and said officials there are asking for more money "for a number of different things."
Still, Reid dismissed the idea that Democrats made an error by supporting the FAA bill, even as he banged the drum on the need to focus on sequestration in its entirety.
"I take all the blame," he said of bringing up the FAA bill for a vote. "I did it."
The FAA may have gotten a pass, but plenty of people are not -- especially the nation's most vulnerable. Meals on Wheels, a program that delivers food to the elderly, is cutting as many as 19 million meals this year. Cuts to Head Start, the federal preschool educational, health and nutritional program for disadvantaged children, mean hundreds of low-income parents are being dropped from the program. Sequestration will also cause many Medicare patients to be referred to hospitals for cancer treatments, where costs are significantly higher.
Reid acknowledged that the pain of sequestration is taking its toll on those who can least afford the hit.
"I think the time has come that when something comes up with the military, that we have to understand that there are a lot of people out there who don't have lobbyists, who don't have people here to advocate for them," he said, citing the groups mentioned above and adding that cuts are also eating into people's unemployment checks.
"I'm not going to apologize for what we've done with air traffic control," Reid added, "but hopefully in the future, we can stop this."