Before members rush for airports, Congress ends sequester flight delays
Once again, the prospect of missing flights home helped Congress resolve a standoff, this time over sequester cuts that had furloughed air traffic controllers and caused flight delays this week.
Jet fumes.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Stuck in an airport
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In Congress, it’s a phrase used humorously by staffers and aides hinting that the alluring scent of idling jets has a magical way of speeding up the legislative process when time back in lawmakers’ home districts draws near.
On Thursday night and Friday afternoon, however, the Senate and House were literally moved to action by jet fumes: Congress rushed legislation to patch funding for air traffic controllers furloughed by the automatic budget cuts known as the “sequester” just before jetting home for a week in their states.
RECOMMENDED: How safe is flying? Take the aviation safety quiz
The Senate passed the bill without a vote Thursday night. House lawmakers approved the legislation, 361-41, before scampering out of town Friday.
The legislation stopped FAA staff reductions that left planes idling on runways across the country and canceled some flights altogether.
The first impact of the legislation, which White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the president would soon sign, would be to stop flight delays (of which there were 6,000 more between Sunday and Wednesday of this week than in the same time last year, according to the air traffic controllers’ union) and potentially reopen dozens of rural airports that would have been shuttered by the furloughs.
But it also shows that the Democratic goal of reaching a grand bargain of targeted spending reductions and higher taxes in place of the $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts now mandated over the next decade has some short-term political problems.
Like air traffic controllers, it turns out.
While President Obama wants to find an alternative for all of the roughly $80 billion in sequester cuts this year, Republicans have instead tried to push the responsibility for deciding who gets furloughed or which programs get cut onto Mr. Obama and his executive agencies by giving them discretion to decide which specific budget items get whacked. The sequester measure, as it originally passed Congress, required across-the-board cuts.
Republicans say the executive discretion creates flexibility, and say that the president is playing political games by, as happened this week, air traffic controllers get furloughed when the Federal Aviation Administration could have shifted $253 million from less-vital airport improvement grants to keep them on the job.
Democrats are loath to place responsibility for meting out sequester cuts at the president’s feet for fear of being blamed for reductions they don’t think should happen in the first place.
On Friday, the GOP claimed victory.