There’s a reason that most people may now associate sequestration with furloughed air traffic controllers: beyond potentially experiencing the flight delays the furloughs causing first hand, they are the leading news story on this topic. An analysis of mainstream news channel coverage by the Huffington Post found that the impact on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was mentioned nearly two and a half times more than the impact on Head Start, more than twice than Medicare patients who got turned away from cancer clinics, and six and a half times more than reductions to Meals on Wheels.
Congress is similarly focused on furloughed air traffic controllers and delayed flights. The GOP launched a campaign on Monday to blame it on President Obama. And yesterday a bipartisan group of Senators, led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND), introduced legislation that would stop the furloughs.
The flight delays are not inconsequential, as they can have a big effect on commerce. A large portion of the population also flies, including policymakers and journalists themselves, so many may have more firsthand experience with this particular impact of sequestration.
But other impacts may be more severe for vulnerable populations and started taking place long before the FAA furloughs. Some low-income children had already been kicked out of Head Start. Thousands of cancer patients have been turned away from clinics. The long-term unemployed are looking at reduced federal checks. Food pantries have closed. Schools on Native American reservations and near military bases have taken an immediate funding cut, as have Native American health services.
Importantly, undoing some pieces of sequestration while leaving others intact will mean those others will have to shoulder even heavier cuts, given the way the sequester was designed. So rather than address it piecemeal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to introduce legislation that would pay down the budget cuts with unused war savings in the Overseas Contingency Operation fund. Enacting such a plan would ensure that programs that serve the poor, elderly, or unemployed don’t suffer more than their share of the overarching budget cuts.