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Sequester Relief for the Privileged, Not the Poor

So far, the airline and meat industries have managed to exempt their parent agencies — the USDA and FAA respectively — from following through with furloughs that the across-the-board sequestration cuts require. It’s a victory, they say, for ordinary Americans who, without these exemptions, would be less safe as travelers and consumers.

But it’s really about profits. Fewer meat inspections, as I wrote in an earlier post, slow down production and hurt sales. Delays and canceled flights mean fewer passengers. It isn’t that these reversals are unhealthy for the economy. It’s that they’re done for the welfare of corporations that happen to rely on a functioning regulatory agency to deliver their product or services.

In anticipation of the sequester, fourteen groups lobbying on behalf of the farming industry filed expense reports of more than $1.7 million in 2013’s first quarter. That money came from Perdue Farms, Hormel Foods, Christensen Farms as well as from several state farming bureaus.

Twenty-one groups from the airline industry filed to lobby with about $7.3 million in the same quarter, including JetBlue, American Airlines, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Airlines for America, and the union that represents FAA workers, the AFL-CIO.

When legislation affects corporate earnings, Congress is quick to remedy the problem. It took just days to draft and pass legislation that would save airline companies and the meat industry from losing money. Meanwhile, gun control legislation took months to draw up and died in the end.

Eric Cantor (R-VA), like many Republicans, has criticized the president for not responding fast enough to issues that affect the affluent. “Why is President Obama unnecessarily delaying your flight?” he tweeted in late April.  

But where are Cantor’s tweets about the 140,000 housing vouchers that have been cut for low-income families? What about the 11 percent cut in benefits for the millions of unemployed? Is he aware that the $25 million that will halt furloughs for USDA inspectors was transferred from a program that provides free school breakfasts to children? 

“I would invite anyone in Washington to come look my patients in the eye and tell them that waiting for a flight is a bigger problem than traveling farther and waiting longer for chemotherapy,” Dr. William Nibley of United Cancer Specialists in Utah wrote in a statement earlier this week.

In the next few months we’ll see similar battles. The FAA crisis was sparked with a 5 percent budget cut. What will happen in October when an additional 12 percent is cut in non-defense spending? And how will Congress address the Army when it confronts lawmakers about a $13 billion gap in its projected budget for operations and maintenance?

One thing is for sure: Congress will have no trouble ignoring public interest advocates and letting programs like Head Start and SNAP crumble because “there is no CEO for Head Start who can reach senators on the phone,” an Obama aide said.