The FAA ended its furloughs of air traffic controllers over the weekend and said the nation’s enraged travelers, who had been caught in long delays at some major airports, should see things back to normal by Sunday night.
Moving with striking speed and overwhelming bipartisanship, Congress on Friday ordered President Obama to cancel the furloughs of air traffic controllers, making the second big dent in the budget sequesters.
Once the bill obtained Mr. Obama’s reluctant signature Saturday, the Transportation Department was ordered to cut $253 million from elsewhere in its budget and send the money to the Federal Aviation Administration. The bill also would cancel a move the FAA had planned to close dozens of contract air traffic control towers.
Mr. Obama chided Republican lawmakers Saturday for what he called an irresponsible way to govern, though he himself had signed the initial bill requiring that money be sequestered if the two parties could not agree on more-targeted ways to cut the deficit.
“Republicans claimed victory when the sequester first took effect, and now they’ve decided it was a bad idea all along,” he said, despite the bill having passed the Democrat-led Senate unanimously and having overwhelming Democratic support in the House’s 361-41 vote.
The FAA said it had to do the furloughs under the $85 billion in budget sequesters that took effect March 1. The furloughs began April 21, with just a few days’ notice to airports and airlines, who were left scrambling. With fewer controllers, plane departures had to be spaced out more, leading to long waits on the runway for many passengers.
Republicans in Congress accused Mr. Obama of trying to make the furloughs as painful as possible in order to convince the public of the need to raise taxes to cancel the sequester cuts.
“I think we all agree the FAA and the administration has handled the sequester poorly,” said Rep. Tom Latham, Iowa Republican. “The administration has played shameful politics with sequestration at the expense of hardworking families.”
But the FAA said it didn’t have any choice in how it carried out the cuts.
On Friday, presidential spokesman Jay Carney said this was a one-time exception and the president wouldn’t entertain other specific carve-outs from the sequesters.
Previously, the president had rejected efforts to give him flexibility to move money around, saying that he didn’t want to pick and choose between programs and instead wanted to see taxes raised to cover the costs of the programs.
The $85 billion in sequester cuts are slated to be applied to most domestic and defense programs equally, even though neither Mr. Obama nor congressional Republicans want across-the-board cuts.
But neither do they want to be responsible for the specific cuts. Mr. Obama has called for tax increases, while House Republican leaders have rejected that, instead trying to pass bills that would make the administration have to choose where to cut.
The Democrats objected to fixing just one part of the sequesters, saying other major programs such as Head Start, health research and defense operations are still suffering.
“It fails to address the whole impact of sequester,” said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.