So last year, after a contentious debate about raising the debt limit, President Obama and Congressional Republicans reached a grand bargain. Republicans would agree to raise the debt limit, and Democrats and Republicans would work together to find a way to shave several trillion dollars off the national debt. In order to ensure that a deal would be reached, the politicians agreed on a plan to punish themselves for failure: If the two sides couldn't agree on a deficit-reduction plan by a certain date, then automatic spending cuts would strike programs near and dear to both parties: Republicans would see cuts to the military while Democrats would see cuts to social programs. (Only a churl would point out that the Democrats SHOULD have held out for automatic tax increases, and I am not a churl, so you didn't hear that from me.) This automatic, across-the-board cutting is known as "sequestration."
Surprisingly to no one, Republicans and Democrats could not reach agreement on budget cuts, and the sequester went into effect several weeks ago. And then a funny thing happened: Nobody cared. Oh, sure, some poor people might have had a bit more trouble buying food, and perhaps some federally supported childcare programs might have had to shutter themselves. But nobody who counts was suffering. Until this week, that is.
This week, at airports across the country, passengers suffered extensive delays as a result of slowdowns caused by furloughed workers. The workers were furloughed, of course, due to the sequester. Not to worry, though, Congress was on the case! This same institution that dithered for four months before not passing minimal gun regulation after a massacre of toddlers sprang into action after some folks had to sit on a runway for thirty extra minutes.