Last night the Senate
voted to end the furloughs for Air Traffic Controllers. Today it appears to be heading toward the House for a vote.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed by unanimous consent a bill that would end the furloughs of air traffic controllers. The furloughs have been blamed for widespread delays at the nation's airports.
The bill approved late Thursday would allow the transportation secretary to move up to $253 million during the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
You know what the Senate didn't vote to end? The funding cuts for Meals on Wheels
. It's a little program that helps the elderly stay in their homes, instead of having to relocate to a nursing home.
Freddie Neese does not want to live in a nursing home.
The 66-year-old who has congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart said he's able to stay in his own home - for now - with help from programs such as Meals on Wheels.
He greets volunteers who bring him prepared, healthy meals that include vegetables and fruits with a smile - and great appreciation.
"I don't want to be in a nursing home. I want to be in my own home and I want to live here as long as I can," said Neese, whose wife passed away in 2001. "Getting these meals means a lot to me.
"I don't know what I would do without it."
But this program both locally and nationwide will face tough financial times if, as expected, it becomes a victim of sequestration, the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts triggered because leaders couldn't agree on a better way to cut federal spending.
You know what else the Senate didn't vote on? Restoring funds for Head Start
Across the country, administrators of Head Start -- the federal preschool educational, health and nutritional program for disadvantaged children -- have begun taking drastic measures to meet the 5-percent cut as mandated under the sequester. Unlike other agencies that have used budget dexterity to temporarily put off those cuts, Head Start has been forced to deal with budget gaps now because the school year ends this spring.
What's resulted is a series of operational changes that have left needy families even further in the lurch.
In Palm Beach County, for instance, Head Start has ended its bus service, forcing families for 2,300 children to find their own methods of transportation.
That's a relatively minor inconvenience compared to the other challenges Head Start parents now face. Many have been forced to figure out what to do with their children (often 3- to 5-years-old) during the days that the program will no longer be operational -- dozens of chapters have said they will shut their doors weeks early. Others have seen their child thrown off the Head Start rolls entirely. In Wisconsin, 700 families could end up losing Head Start access. In Cincinnati, nearly 200 children are at risk. In Oklahoma City, that number is 100.
Another thing the Senate didn't vote to end: restoring funding to treat cancer for Medicare patients
"If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year," said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. "The drugs we're going to lose money on we're not going to administer right now."
After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca's clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients.
"A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening," he said. "It's a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business."
They also didn't vote to replace funding for Section 8 housing
The same story is playing out in public housing agencies around the country, according to Douglas Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Last week he authored a report that found 140,000 low-income families could be denied access to rental assistance by early next year because of the sequester.
"The severity of the shortfall in voucher renewal funding caused by sequestration is unprecedented in the history of the program," Rice wrote in the report. "Facing such large shortfalls, agencies will be forced to take steps to reduce program costs quickly, even as they spend down reserves."
There was no vote to re-institute the military tuition program
“The secretary of the Army has approved the suspension of tuition assistance effective March 8, 2013, a statement on the GoArmyEd website read in part. ”Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests…However, soldiers currently enrolled in courses approved for tuition assistance are not affected, and will be allowed to complete current course enrollment(s). This change in the Army tuition assistance program applies to all soldiers, including the Army National Guard and Army Reserves. The Army understands the impacts of this decision and will re-evaluate the decision if the budgetary situation improves.”
Elderly, children, troops, poor and sick people -- none of them got a vote last night. By unanimous consent
, (in other words, no floor vote happened) this
Furloughs for 47,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees went into effect Sunday, causing 1,200 flight delays in the system Monday. That number fell short of the up to 6,700 flights per day the FAA has said could be affected, but it has already caused concern on both sides of the aisle.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed "poor planning" and "political motives" for the delays.
Air traffic controllers are going back to work
This episode shows whose problems Washington takes seriously. The FAA debacle is bad for the whole economy, but it particularly hurts people who fly a lot, who tend to be affluent. Members of Congress themselves also happen to fly a lot. As a result, we've gone from problem onset to legislative solution in about five days. (snip)
The FAA fix has been sold as an effort to ensure that sequestration does not interfere with "essential" government services. When lawmakers say "essential," they apparently mean "essential to people like me."
This outcome should alarm Democrats. Republicans don't like to talk too loudly about it, but the core of their long-term fiscal plan is to sharply reduce programs that aid the poor. Last year's House budget proposal cut $800 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, on top of a repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the rest of the Affordable Care Act, and it cut a further $800 billion from income security programs such as food stamps. (snip)
The FAA fight is a done deal. But Obama must be careful not to allow a series of piecemeal fixes that concentrate sequestration's effects solely on the poor. In coming months, as sequestration continues to unfold, defense contractors and military communities will be coming to Washington seeking relief. That lobby also may be powerful, but the Obama administration must tie a solution for them to one that helps the poor and the unemployed.
If there was ever a question about priorities, let it be known that 100 people in the Untied States Senate will take care of themselves, first. They got theirs, and fuck everyone else.