Today progressive commentators are bewailing a House bill that would allow the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) enough flexibility in administering the sequester spending cuts to avoid disrupting air travel. Furloughed federal air traffic controllers should be able to return to the job soon. Progressive angst over this exception to the sequester takes two directions. One evaluates the gamemanship skills on display and finds that Democrats "lost," while the other asks about fairness. WaPo's Ezra Klein efficiently integrates these concerns:
In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it’s even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It’s worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.I'm here to add my voice, small as it is, to those concerned with the latter issue. Once again, thanks to the ideological blindness, ignorance, and cruelty of the GOP, along with the short-sightedness and timidity of our Democratic politicians, the folks on the bottom got screwed. I do, however, have a special, personal sequester ax to grind.
I was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer last fall. It's a hard disease to diagnose - it took to months of tests and an eventual surgery to find out what was causing my vague and diverse symptoms. Treatment consists of further surgery and repeated cycles of chemotherapy. When or if I achieve remission - late state ovarian cancer is not considered curable - it will likely last anywhere from 3 months to three years; the number of women diagnosed in late stages who are cancer free five years after treatment is very small. When the cancer recurs, it is very likely to be resistant to one or more chemotherapy drugs. I have met one woman who has been through five remissions in sixteen years, all requiring ongoing, expensive treatment. Others are not lucky enough to make it that long.
What does this have to do with the sequester? Think Progress writes about the effect of the cuts on Medicare cancer patients:
Budget cuts have forced doctors and cancer clinics to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands of cancer patients thanks to a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One clinic in New York has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and many cancer patients have had to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an option that obviously isn’t available to lower-income people. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) proposed restoring the funding, but the legislation so far hasn’t moved in Congress.Although I am old enough to be eligible for Medicare, I am instead covered by the insurance offered by my husband's employer so this cut does not affect me personally. However, during the past months I have wondered how many people in my position die because they can't afford either the chain of tests that I endured before my disease was diagnosed or the complicated treatment regimen. I don't think that this is a condition that can be effectively treated in the emergency room. This funding cut will surely kill women just like me.
I am directly affected, however, by the cuts to health research funding. Think Progress tells us that:
... The National Institutes of Health lost $1.6 billion thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. That won’t just impact research and the people who do it, though. It will also hurt the economy, costing the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs. Budget cuts will also hamper research at colleges and universities.Ovarian cancer has not received the type of attention that has been accorded to cancers that affect larger numbers of people. (I have read that only about 20,000 women a year are diagnosed with the disease as opposed to the ca. 250,000 new cases of breast cancer each year.) There hasn't been as much money to fund research into a cure or new treatment methods and the numbers of deaths from ovarian cancer have remained steady over the past several decades. Recently, though, some potential, new treatment directions (see, for instance, here) have been identified. Curtailing such research could have a very serious impact on how effective my future treatment options are and, consequently, on how long I will ultimately survive.
My question is very simple. Aren't cancer patients just as important as the tourists and business travellers who may be inconvenienced by longer lines if air traffic controllers are furloughed? I know that this question is one that could be asked by so many others who are or will be affected by the sequester cuts: the unemployed, children in head start, those threatened b OSHA cutbacks, etc., but for many of us suffering from cancer is perhaps, more immediately a question of life or death, at least for those facing the Medicare cuts that deny them treatment.
I am writing to the President, to my milquetoast Democratic Senator, my (worthless) Republican Representative to let them know how angry I am about the way our politicians have contrived to make a stupid set of cuts worse by applying them unfairly. Klein suggests that Democrats should try to make the best of this bad situation:
At this point, it probably makes sense for the White House to push for and accept an expanded version of the Inhofe-Toomey bill giving them some discretion over how the cuts are distributed. So far, they’ve resisted bills giving them the ability to choose, within sequestration’s broad parameters, how to allocate the cuts. But that refusal was based on the theory that making sequestration less painful would make it more permanent. If sequestration is permanent, however, they might as well make it a bit less painful.But is this realistic? As long as the sequester is in effect, cuts will have to come from somewhere; you can only rob Peter to pay Paul for so long, and I'm not optimistic that our so-called leaders have the wherewithal to stand up for the real interests of the people they represent.