Well, it finally happened: Congress passed a bill last week, to abolish a bit of "the sequester." Lenny DeFranco wrote about it for PolicyMic, and a fairly lively discussion ensued. The interesting part of this isn't so much that Congress acts quickly when it finds itself inconvenienced — as in wanting to get out of town on vacation ASAP. The interesting part is that Congress has always had the power to abolish the sequester cuts at any time.
Congress created the sequester. Congress can abolish it. President Obama always knew it. In fact, he counted on it and upon Congress' self-preservation instincts back in December, when we were all hyperventilating about the fiscal cliff. Things didn't quite turn out the way the president expected them to, however, and the cuts went into effect because the Senate and the House of Representatives could not both pass bills that contained similar language.
The first of the cuts to "hurt" to the point of enough people complaining loud enough to their elected representatives was the FAA furloughs. This is the civics lesson we all need to take to heart. Two things are required to abolish any particular part of the sequester: votes and motivation.
There have to be enough votes in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass a bill of abolishment. Up until the FAA bill, the House has followed its own agenda. As for motivation, We the People are going to have to supply this item ... 535 Congresscritters by themselves cannot muster the consensus to decide to put mustard on their hot dogs. In the case of the FAA furloughs, the traveling public weighed in. Business fliers keep the airlines in business, obviously, so there was also some corporate complaining going on. But we're also well into vacation season, so tourists complained, too. That put the noise level — enhanced by media hype, of course — over the top. Congress could act.
I'm not crazy about this new, instant message legislation process — to coin a phrase. If that is what we have to do to restore funding for such programs as Meals-on-Wheels or Head Start, though, so be it. ThinkProgress published an article, listing 12 programs that have been affected severely by the sequester cuts. Some are of interest to both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps we should organize ourselves into some new kind of movement to contact our senators and representatives to let them know how much we would like to keep the following funded — without regard to partisanship:
1. Cancer Treatments:
Budget cuts have forced doctors and cancer clinics to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands of cancer patients thanks to a 2% cut to Medicare. Representative Renee Elmer (R-N.C.) has proposed restoring funding but the legislation hasn't moved.
2. Student Aid:
Sequestration is already raising fees on direct student loans, increasing costs for students who are already buried in debt.
3. Meals on Wheels:
Local Meals on Wheels programs, which help low-income and disabled seniors, have faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts, costing tens of thousands of seniors access to the program.
4. Disaster Relief:
The FEMA will lose nearly $1 billion in funding thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing aid for families, cities, and states right as the spring storm season begins.
These four items are of benefit to all of us. To argue for cuts to them is hypocritical because you or someone in your family could be the next one who needs the government's help.