No one likes getting stranded at the airport.
So it was good politics for Congress to fly to the rescue of air travelers, passing legislation to end the sequester-driven furloughs of air traffic controllers after just one week.
No one wants to get food poisoning, either.
So it wasn't surprising when Congress dished up $55 million in new money to spare meat inspectors from sequestration — the $85 billion across-the-board spending cut that hit most domestic and defense programs beginning in March.
But good politics isn't the same as good policy.
No, we're not endorsing flight delays or tainted meat. Our beef is with an approach to government that produces these special dispensations.
They're the latest symptom of a serious problem: the chronic failure of Congress and the White House to address fiscal issues except on a crisis-by-crisis basis.
The sequester was an ill-conceived agreement to end one self-imposed budget crisis (remember the super committee?) by scheduling another one so onerous that both parties would be compelled to settle on a long-term plan for federal spending and debt relief.
So much for a political doomsday machine.
As usual, the first impulse in Washington was to cast partisan blame. After the finger-pointing came accommodations. So instead of a deal, we're left with a new source of special-interest legislation. Rather than scouring appropriation bills for earmarks, reporters and reformers will need to be on the lookout for exemptions.
Tucked into the same measure as the money for meat inspections was a waiver for a tuition assistance program for service members. The administration found money to exempt airport security and prison guards from cutbacks. And during their week's vacation, many senators and House members are home rallying support for still more exemptions.
When Congress returns to Washington, among those waiting to talk about waivers are drug companies and medical device manufacturers, according to the news site Politico, which reports that exemptions are shaping up as a new source of business for lobbying firms.