House OKs Bill to End FAA Furloughs, Airport Delays

congress faa furloughs automatic budget cuts airport delays
Elaine Thompson/AP

WASHINGTON -- Congress easily approved legislation Friday ending furloughs of air traffic controllers that have delayed hundreds of flights daily, infuriating travelers and causing political headaches for lawmakers.

The House approved the measure on a 361-41 vote, a day after the Senate swiftly agreed to the bill. The vote came as lawmakers prepared to leave town for a weeklong spring recess, a break that would have been less pleasant if they were confronted by constituents upset over travel delays.

Republicans accused the Obama administration of purposely furloughing controllers to pressure Congress to lift $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts -- known as sequestration -- that took effect last month at government agencies.

"The administration has played shameful politics with the sequester at the cost of hard-working American families," said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa.

The White House and Democrats have argued that by law, the administration has little room to decide where the cuts fall. The White House and Democrats want Congress to work on legislation lifting all of the cuts, which lawmakers noted have also caused reductions in Head Start preschool programs, benefits for the long-term unemployed and medical research.

"How can we sit there and say, 'Four million Meals on Wheels for seniors, gone, but that's not important. Over 70,000 children off Head Start, but that's not important.' What is important is for Republicans to hold a hard line" on the budget, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The Federal Aviation Administration has furloughed the controllers as part of the government-wide reductions. The bill would let the FAA use up to $253 million from airport improvement and other accounts to end the furloughs for the controllers through the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year.

In addition to restoring full staffing by controllers, the available funds can be used for other FAA operations, including preventing the closure of small airport towers around the country. The FAA had said it will shut the facilities to meet its share of the spending cuts.

The FAA said there had been at least 863 flights delayed on Wednesday "attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough."

Administration officials participated in the negotiations that led to the deal and evidently registered no objections.

After the vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, "It will be good news for America's traveling public if Congress spares them these unnecessary delays. But ultimately, this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester's mindless, across-the-board cuts."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key participant in the talks, said the legislation would "prevent what otherwise would have been intolerable delays in the air travel system, inconveniencing travelers and hurting the economy."

Senate approval followed several hours of pressure-filled, closed-door negotiations, and came after most senators had departed the Capitol on the assumption that the talks had fallen short.

For the White House and Senate Democrats, the discussions on legislation relating to one relatively small slice of the $85 billion in spending cuts marked a shift in position in a long-running struggle with Republicans over budget issues. Similarly, the turn of events marked at least modest vindication of a decision by the House GOP last winter to finesse some budget struggles in order to focus public attention on the across-the-board cuts in hopes they would gain leverage over President Barack Obama.

The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union that represents FAA employees, reported a number of incidents it said were due to the furloughs.

In one case, it said several flights headed for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York were diverted on Wednesday when a piece of equipment failed. "While the policy for this equipment is immediate restoral, due to sequestration and furloughs it was changed to next-day restoral," the union said.

The airlines, too, were pressing Congress to restore the FAA to full staffing.

In an interview Wednesday, Robert Isom, chief operations officer of US Airways, said, "In the airline business, you try to eliminate uncertainty. Some factors you can't control, like weather. It [the FAA issue] is worse than the weather."

In a shift, first the White House and then senior Democratic lawmakers signaled a willingness in the past two days to support legislation that alleviates the budget crunch at the FAA, while leaving the balance of the $85 billion to remain in effect.

Obama favors a comprehensive agreement that replaces the entire $85 billion in across-the-board cuts as part of a broader deficit-reduction deal that includes higher taxes and spending cuts.

Officials estimate it would cost slightly more than $200 million to restore air traffic controllers to full staffing, and an additional $50 million to keep open smaller air traffic towers around the country that the FAA has proposed closing.


Associated Press writers Joan Lowy, Henry C. Jackson and Alan Fram in Washington and David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

(Updated at 12:53 p.m. ET)

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This seriously aggravates me. And so many people don't even realize their motives.
They can't afford so many VOTERS to be angry with them, if they want to be re-elected in 2014.
I have a question that goes to the heart of this...
Where would you find the MOST VOTERS???
People who travel and/or are delayed by slow air traffic --or--people who could starve because they won't do the same correction for "Meals on Wheels". =!=
Right, they don't care about small groups, so they are only going to correct problems that influence a large amount of VOTERS.
We should be incensed over their callous maneuvers, that are not for the good of the country, done only because of greed and wanting to stay in their overpaid jobs. Don't you just wonder how many got promises of campaign funds from airlines and lobbyists affected by this?
Let's all smarten up and vote against them in 2014 anyway. We couldn't do worse with new politicians, but probably better!

April 26 2013 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

“The chaos at the nation’s airports — which has mushroomed in the weeks following the sequester budget cuts — is purposely being made worse by the Obama administration, Florida Rep. John Mica says.

“This is inflicted, orchestrated by the administration,’’ Mica, a member of the House Transportation Committee, told the media.
“This is a political decision made on high to try to inflict pain on the public and then point the finger at Republicans. ... It’s a political ploy that is an insult to Congress and to the American taxpayer.’’

April 26 2013 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Randy's comment

The only "political ploy" is Republicans giving preferential treatment on this item, to gain votes from the "American taxpayer". We should be insulted that they give us so little credit, thinking we won't see what's behind their devious machinations!

April 26 2013 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


April 26 2013 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Bob!

Amazing! Congress really can act fast! Especially on an issue that affects them perosnally.

April 26 2013 at 2:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Maybe the FAA should actually take the time to look for cuts which do not adversely affect passengers. It is my understanding that despite significant cuts in the number of flights, the FAA continues to seek more money and more employees. If the heads of the FAA were in private industry, they would be spending their time looking for new jobs.

April 26 2013 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply