WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama says the congressional fix for widespread flight delays is an irresponsible way to govern, but he’s prepared to sign the legislation that lawmakers fast-tracked.
He says the bipartisan bill to end furloughs of air traffic controllers is a “Band-Aid” solution rather than a lasting answer to this year’s $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester.
The cuts have affected all federal agencies, and flight delays last week left thousands of travellers frustrated and furious and Congress feeling pressured to respond.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Saturday that it had suspended all employee furloughs and that air traffic facilities would begin returning to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours.
The FAA’s statement said the air traffic system would resume normal operations by Sunday evening.
“Republicans claimed victory when the sequester first took effect, and now they’ve decided it was a bad idea all along,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, aired Saturday.
He singled out the GOP even though the bill passed with overwhelming Democratic support in both the House and Senate.
The president scolded lawmakers for helping the Federal Aviation Administration while doing nothing to replace other cuts that he said harm federal employees, unemployed workers and preschoolers in Head Start.
“Maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted these cuts take hold finally realized that they actually apply to them, too,” Obama said.
Rushed through Congress with remarkable speed, the bill marked a shift for Democrats who had hoped the impact of the cuts would increase pressure on Republicans to reverse the broad cuts.
Republicans have rejected Obama’s proposal to replace the spending reductions with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.
“There are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts, and to impose more tax hikes on the American people,” said Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania in the Republican address.
Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the FAA could have averted the flight delays on its own by cutting costs elsewhere and rejiggering work schedules, but chose not to do so.
The bill signed by Obama would let the FAA use up to $253 million from an airport improvement program and other accounts to halt the furloughs through the Sept. 30 end of the government’s fiscal year.
Faced with the prospect that emboldened Republicans will push to selectively undo other painful effects of the cuts, the White House said Friday that a piecemeal approach would be impractical, but wouldn’t definitely rule out signing other fixes.
Obama address: www.whitehouse.gov
GOP address: www.youtube.com/HouseConference
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