I don't blame anyone for being furious that sequester cuts affecting ordinary Americans didn't rouse Congress to action, but now cuts affecting upscale frequent fliers -- a group that includes members of Congress and their fat-cat donors -- seem to be getting a quick bipartisan response from our legislators. However, Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler is wrong when he says that Democrats are blowing a chance to reopen the whole sequester debate:
The point of sequestration is supposedly to create just enough chaos that regular people -- people with political clout, such as, say, business travelers -- demand that Congress fix it. Or as the Democrats conceived it, to create the public pressure they need to knock Republicans off their absolutist position on taxes.Sorry -- this was not a big, predictable opportunity to return to the sequestration debate, for one simple reason: math is hard.
Well, they got their outcry...and then promptly folded. They allowed Republicans to inaccurately characterize the FAA furloughs as a political stunt. Then without any organized effort to cast the flight delays as part of the same problem that's also keeping poor people homeless they assented to providing special treatment to the traveling class.
So now the big, predictable opportunity to return to the sequestration debate under genuine public scrutiny is gone.
Voters literally have no idea how much money is being cut from air safety, or from any other program. Nobody talks about dollar amounts. Nobody explains that we expect government to do a lot of things, and the cost of doing those things adds up to dollar amounts that sound stratospheric to someone making a salary in the low to mid-five figures (or someone not working at all). Democrats don't talk about the necessary millions and billions because they're afraid Joe and Jane America would freak out, but, y'know, that's what stuff costs.
And because Joe and Jane have no idea, they think if you cut some $125,000 grant to some scientist studying cow flatulence -- a study that might actually tell us something very much worth knowing about climate-altering gases -- you could pay for an entire agency's worth of cuts. Or they think the government spends massive amounts on foreign aid, and they think that's totally unnecessary, and we could just eliminate that and all our budget problems would be solved.
Democrats didn't lose the sequester fight today. Democrats have spent the last few decades losing the sequester fight. They lost it long before it even began, because they've done absolutely no pushback against the notion that government budgets are riddled with colossal amounts of waste, the elimination of which is all we need to have balanced budgets and low taxes and a happy dance around the maypole to celebrate our widespread abundance.
Democrats have defended a few programs fairly vigorously at times -- Medicare, Social Security, public broadcasting -- and they've gotten Joe and Jane to accept the notion that the rich are undertaxed. But Democrats have let the "waste, fraud, and abuse" narrative become unquestioned gospel in the heartland. And so the public went into this sequester moment assuming that a few minor adjustments could get all the good stuff paid for.
Republicans understood that. Democrats didn't. So Democrats lost this fight before it began.