Growing Old with Long Gray Hair
Purpose in Retirement

Who Could have Stopped the FAA Sequester Exception?

Did you know -

• the Meals on Wheels program for homebound elders is being cut by an estimated 19 million meals?

• thousands of elder cancer patients are being denied needed chemotherapy treatments due to Medicare cuts?

• 140,000 low-income families – mostly disabled elders and families with children - are losing rental assistance vouchers?

• 7,000 children are being kicked out of Head Start programs?

These cuts and others are already in progress and will increase in the coming months due to the “sequestration” law (the Budget Control Act of 2011) that went into effect on 1 March this year requiring across-the-board, mandatory cuts to the military and all federal agencies and programs.

Now, did you know this:

Last week, Congress – both houses – fast-tracked their individual bills to exempt the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from its share of sequestration cuts?

What happened that got Congress in such a tizzy to actually do something (and it's even bipartisan) is that a lot of air traffic controllers were furloughed on Monday 22 April resulting in a slow-down at airports throughout the U.S. inconveniencing business travelers along with members of Congress who fly to and from their home states a lot.

Following that first day of furlough, it took Congress just two days to prepare legislation to get those air traffic controllers back on the job and pass it by the end the week.

In case, given the above list, you are disgusted by Congressional priorities, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explained at a press briefing last week that if passed, President Barack Obama would sign the legislation because:

“This is causing unnecessary harm to travelers around the country.”

So on Thursday, the Senate passed S.853, Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 by what is called “unanimous consent” which means there was no roll call vote.

After some minor back and forth on Friday, the House passed an identical bill (H.R. 1765) 361-41 with 30 not voting. Only 29 Democrats voted against the bill.

My representative, Democrat Kurt Schrader, voted yea. I wonder if he knows this is a deal breaker for me in next year's election. You can see how yours voted here.

Although President Barack Obama had been expected to sign the legislation on Friday or Saturday, that had to be postponed due to a typo - a missing "s" - in the bill's text. He is now scheduled to sign it today. But that missing signature didn't stop the bill from going into effect immediately:

Even if we despise Congressional preference for their own convenience over food and health care for millions of Americans, at least the House voted fair and square by rules we understand and we know who voted which way.

The 100 contemptible Senate wretches, however, didn't even take a public vote. They hid behind that “unanimous consent” stuff.

That led me to wonder how it works and if any of the senators – were they to have a backbone and care about the vast majority of Americans who can't afford to travel by air – could have stopped unanimous consent passage of the bill.

As it turns out, it would have taken only one senator, just one, to bury this shameful legislation. Courtesy of a lucid explanation from Republican Senator Tom Coburn, here's how it goes. (By the way, there is no counterpart to this maneuver in the House.)

Bills to be passed by unanimous consent are said to be “hotlined.”

A “hotline” is an informal term for a request to members of the Senate to agree to allow a bill or resolution to be approved by the Senate without debate or amendment,” writes Coburn. “A measure that is 'hotlined' is recorded in the Congressional Record as being agreed to by unanimous consent (UC).

The majority and minority leaders of the Senate decide together to hotline a bill. All the senators' offices are then notified of the hotline and if they object [called a 'hold'], they are asked to contact their leader's office. Without any holds, however,

”In practice,” writes Coburn, “instead of requiring explicit unanimous consent to pass a bill, the hotline process only requires a lack of dissent...

“In some Senate offices, the hotline, or request for unanimous consent to pass a measure, may never even reach Senators, and the decision to allow a bill to be approved without debate is determined by staff. Staff may also place a hold on a bill without the knowledge of a Senator.”

That's bad enough. But wait. Get this:

”A 'hold' is placed when the Leader’s office is notified that a Senator intends to object to a request for unanimous consent (UC) from the Senate to consider or pass a measure.

“A hold may be placed for any reason and can be lifted by a Senator at any time. A Senator may place a hold simply to review a bill, to negotiate changes to the bill, or to kill the bill. A bill can be held for as long as the Senator who objects to the bill wishes to block its consideration.”

Personally, I think it's a dumb rule to allow one senator (anonymity allowed) to withhold a bill from the Senate floor indefinitely. But as long as we are stuck with it, it could have been used this time to stop a repellent bit of unwarranted favoritism.

Judging from past performance and publicly professed ideology, I would have thought there are several senators who coulda/woulda/shoulda stopped this legislation: Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), maybe even my two Oregon senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

But no. Not one senator (nor even the president) took a principled stand for needy elders, children and their families not to mention Medicare cancer patients denied chemotherapy drugs, some of whom will die as a result. (Yes, they will.)

But never mind. Congress members and rich people will not be caused "unnecessary harm," (as Carney so helpfully explained) by airport delays. This is the country we live in now.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: The Will to Live


Never underestimate the ignorance of the electorate. People whose planes were delayed would simply have voted against incumbent Democrats in the next election. Those incumbents would be replaced by Republicans much less likely to vote for programs that help the elderly.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, even when the "good" makes us pull our hair out with frustration.

The Senate itself has become, along with greedy billionaires, the central flaw in our democracy. It's a farce: selfish procedures, filibuster rule that requires super majority votes, and above all the geographical inequities of the federal system (one Senator for each 260,000 Wyoming residents versus one for each 18 million Californians) were all pay offs to property owners to get the Constitution passed in the first place. (Note that the "property" was in significant part slaves, human beings.)

We've been struggling out of the hole the founders dug for us throughout our history. Only about a century ago did citizens even get to vote for Senators. Before that they were appointed by State legislators who were usually bought and paid for by railroads and mining interests.

Getting rid of the Senate (and rural state obstructionism) is the current project of US democracy.

'Outrage' doesn't cover how I feel about this!!!

What I want to know is why the sequester targeted so many programs for the needy. Even Newt Gingrich said there are plenty of areas where cuts would have made more sense.
But the clincher is that Congress 'excepted' themselves from any pay cuts when the sequester went into effect!! If that chaps you the way it does me please sign this petition. 365,000 Americans already have: Congress needs a taste of it's own medicine!

That there is surprise at these shenanigans surprises me!

Now I will go to "Congress needs a taste of it's own medicine"

Hypocrisy at its worst.

I just read that young voters who voted for Obama with idealism are now turned off of politics. Not only are the current inhabitants of Congress doing irreparable harm to the needy, they are doing great harm to democracy. It's no wonder their approval rating is in the toilet. Disgusting!!!

I, too, am off to "Congress Needs a Taste of it's Own Medicine." Thanks Elizabeth.

Dear Ronni,

I do feel shame because of the misplaced priorities of my gov't but I'd be more comfortable with your article if you'd specified the monetary relief the air controllers got and the monetary cost of those programs for the needy. I can't help questioning the equivalency.

The money for the former was taken, as you know, from a fund the FAA had for improving our airports. Is there an equivalent fund for care of the elderly--maybe a fund for urban transportation to improve someday?


THANK YOU Ronni for describing these modern "processes" used by 'our' Congress and Senate. To me, THOSE are the most important issues here.

And Renee, 'who gets what' pales in comparison to these practices.

Given that I will never vote for a conservative of any stripe, sometimes it doesn't seem to matter who we vote for. Programs that matter to ordinary human beings seem to end up on the chopping block somehow, while those benefiting the well-off do not. Few, if any, senators are "ordinary" Americans, even if they started out that way. They are almost without exception wealthy and powerful. Of course, they want to stay that way. I think that explains the processes in place, how they are used and who benefits!

Even so, I'm on my way to sign the petition Lauren mentions.

Right after I read your blog today I went to one of my favorite political sites: Some Assembly Required, it's at and the leading spot "Offensive Defensive" cites a report by the Stockholm Int'l Peace Research Institute which reports how much each country spends on defense. Of course, the U.S. spends billions more than ANY other country by billions - and then CKM wonders why we can afford that when we can't even help the pre-schoolers in Head Start...

Congress' and Obama's priorities are scrambled and do not reflect the wishes of the majority of voters. I am glad that you have informed us about these workings of Congress and I want to thank janinsf also for her enlightening comment about how the Senate skews the numbers so that we really have no representation in the Senate. Now I'm going to sign a petition. I'll see you there!

Taking money from the old is getting easier nowadays, isn't it. I'm arguably doing well, but I will depend, to a large extent on social security and medicare. Many rich people get greedy and the hording instinct seems to kick in and allow them to condone these cuts so that their pile of money can grow. We old folks and the middle to lower class (economically speaking) must intensify our efforts to fight this tendency and trend.

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