Congress approves budget bill to end airport delays
Washington • Congress hurried to approve legislation Friday that will end the 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 agreed to the bill. Friday's 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 replace $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester that took effect last month at government agencies.
The White House and Democrats have argued that by law, the administration has little room to decide where the cuts fall. They 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.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president would sign the new bill, but he added, "The problem is this is just a Band-Aid solution."
During House debate, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had a similar complaint.
"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,' " Pelosi said.
The Federal Aviation Administration has furloughed the controllers as part of the governmentwide reductions. The bill would let the FAA use up to $253 million from airport improvement and other accounts to end the furloughs 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 would 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.