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Sequester cuts hurting our kids, elderly

By Rep. Rick Larsen, Special to CNN
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon April 29, 2013
Children eat at a Head Start school in Woodbourne, New York, which provides early education to kids from low-income families.
Children eat at a Head Start school in Woodbourne, New York, which provides early education to kids from low-income families.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Larsen: Congress helped air travelers, but not others suffering from sequester cuts
  • Larsen says Congress made a Band-Aid fix when sequestration needs surgery
  • Larsen: Head Start cut, military community schools hurting, Meals on Wheels cut
  • Congress can fix this with a balanced approach of spending cuts, new revenues, he says

Editor's note: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, is the ranking member of the House Aviation Subcommittee.

(CNN) -- Air travelers across the country are breathing a sigh of relief that they might get to their destinations on time after Congress took action to roll back a part of the automatic spending cuts that forced furloughs on air traffic controllers.

As someone with a 2,300-mile commute, I understand the frustration that travelers felt as delays tripled to nearly 9,000 by Thursday evening -- I am pleased air traffic controllers are back on the job full-time.

I am not relieved, however, that Congress gave the Obama administration authority to end furloughs but has not yet done a single thing to help the many Americans who are suffering the consequences of these cuts.

Rick Larsen
Rick Larsen

Congress made a Band-Aid fix when sequestration needs a triple-bypass surgery.

In my district, and across the country, kids are being turned away from early education programs like Head Start. Children in military communities are being hit especially hard because federal dollars that support their schools have been slashed. And communities are reporting that funding cuts are forcing them to kick some seniors off Meals on Wheels.

But it was business travelers and vacationers who took center stage last week, and it was for them alone that Congress acted. On Friday morning, just hours before many in Congress would head to the airport to catch flights home for a weeklong district work period, the House of Representatives voted to end the furloughs of air traffic controllers.

House votes to stop FAA furloughs

Airline passengers can now count on more reliable service. But the kids in my district who are losing their school bus can't book a flight to class.

When Congress passed sequestration, it was considered such an unthinkable option with such unfathomable consequences that it would have to be replaced. Members from both sides of the aisle gave long speeches about the harm that would come if we allowed the sequester to go into place unmodified.

And yet Republicans seemed to be shocked, shocked, to find flight delays ripple through airports across the country. They ran to television cameras to point fingers at President Obama, saying these delays were preventable. I am not sure what they expected to happen. It would be irrational to expect that we can cut more than $600 million from the FAA budget in six months and not see effects on the flying public. Just as we should not expect that we can cut 4 million meals to seniors, as the White House reports, and not hurt them.

Everyone in America who watched CNN last week learned the sequester has real consequences. While members of Congress aren't getting a lot of calls for 4-year-olds being turned away from Head Start programs, that doesn't mean they don't exist. Their voices may not be as loud as air travelers were last week, but their pain is greater.

Congress can and should pass legislation that will replace the entire sequester with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes spending cuts, reduction in future spending growth, and new revenues. Congress created this problem. We need to fix it.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rick Larsen.

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