Congress gets controllers off furloughs
WASHINGTON — Furloughed air traffic controllers will soon be heading back to work, ending a week of coast-to-coast flight delays that left thousands of travelers frustrated and furious.
Unable to ignore the travelers' anger, Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation Friday to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to withdraw the furloughs.
But the vote left many Democrats upset that it weakened their leverage to lift budget-wide cuts that are hurting Head Start and other programs with less lobbying clout and popular support.
With President Obama's promised signature, the measure will erase one of the most stinging consequences of the $85 billion, across-the-board cuts called the sequester.
Approval by the House was 361-41. The previous evening, the Senate had passed the measure by not even bothering with a roll call. Lawmakers then streamed toward the exits — and airports — for a weeklong spring recess.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would sign the bill, but Carney complained that the measure left the rest of the sequester intact.
“This is a Band-Aid solution. It does not solve the bigger problem,” he said. Using the same Band-Aid comparison, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said that “the sequester needs triple bypass surgery.”
There was no immediate word on when the controllers' furloughs would end. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who helped craft the measure, was told by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Friday that the agency is “doing everything they can to get things back on track as quickly as possible,” said Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley.
In the week since the furloughs began, news accounts have prominently featured nightmarish tales of delayed flights and stranded air passengers. Republicans have used the situation to accuse the Obama administration of purposely forcing the controllers to take unpaid days off to dial up public pressure on Congress to roll back the sequester.
“The president has an obligation to implement these cuts in a way that respects the American people, rather than using them for political leverage,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a written statement.