Consensus lacks in putting end to FAA furloughs
WASHINGTON — With flight delays mounting, White House officials and key members of the Senate struggled on Thursday to agree on hurry-up legislation that would end air traffic controller furloughs blamed for inconveniencing large numbers of travelers.
Lawmakers involved in the talks said there was general agreement that the Federal Aviation Administration should be given additional flexibility in allocating its share of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last month at federal agencies.
But there was no consensus on the details, and without completed legislation, the furloughs and resulting flight delays seemed certain to persist at least until Congress returns early next month from a scheduled weeklong vacation.
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 Obama.
The talks unfolded as the FAA said there had been at least 863 flights delayed on Wednesday “attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough.”
The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union that represents FAA employees, reported a number of incidents.
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.
It added it was “learning of additional impacts nationwide, including open watches, increased restoration times, delays resulting from insufficient funding for parts and equipment, modernization delays, missed or deferred preventative maintenance, and reduced redundancy.”
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, likened the furloughs to a “wildcat regulatory action.”
He added, “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 have 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.
One Senate Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, noted that without the type of comprehensive deficit deal that Obama favors, a bill that eases the spending crunch at the FAA would inevitably be followed by other single-issue measures. She listed funding at the National Institutes of Health as one example, and cuts that cause furloughs of civilians who work at military hospitals as a second.
At the same time, Democratic aides said resolve had crumbled under the weight of widespread delays for the traveling public and pressure from the airlines.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., involved in the discussions, said the issue was big enough so “most people want to find a solution as long as it doesn't spend any more money.”
Officials estimate it would cost slightly more than $200 million to restore air traffic controllers to full staffing, and another $50 million to keep open smaller air traffic towers around the country that the FAA has proposed closing.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Police try to see if man killed by escort was linked to crimes against women
- Boy Scouts of America votes to end controversial ban on openly gay leaders
- National Security Agency to stop looking at old telephone records
- El Niño helps, harms economies
- Lawyers: Immigrant mothers coerced to wear ankle monitors in Texas
- ‘Aggressive’ search under way for 2 Florida teens lost on fishing trip
- House Benghazi panel says State Department to hand over documents Tuesday
- Republicans seek firing of IRS chief in feud over missing emails
- Georgia judge says she did not involuntarily commit Louisiana movie theater gunman Houser
- Nuke arms program gets 4-star leadership
- Outside attorneys to help investigate Bland death in Texas jail