The White House trotted out the most visible Republican in the administration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Friday in an effort to both warn the public of massive delays at airports across the country if sequester hits — and, more importantly — “wake up” his former House colleagues.
“I would describe my presence here with one word: Republican,” LaHood said from the White House podium. “They’re hoping that maybe I can influence some of the people in my own party.”
LaHood warned more than 100 regional airports would see their air traffic control towers close due to sequestration, and passengers should expect delays of 90 minutes during peak times at major airports once furloughs of air traffic controllers take effect in order to maintain safety.
He called on Republicans to step up and compromise.
“I suggest that my former colleagues on the Republican side go see the movie ‘Lincoln,’ because in the move ‘Lincoln’ it shows how hard it was back then to get things done,” he said. “But what Lincoln did was he gathered people around him the way that I believe President Obama is doing by calling Republicans, talking to them, trying to work with them, and when that happens big things get solved.”
That comment drew some snark on Twitter from Speaker John A. Boehner’s deputy chief of staff, David Shnittger, who tweeted: “So President Obama is the new Lincoln because he made perfunctory phone calls to Boehner and Sen. McConnell yesterday on sequestration.”
Still, LaHood said, “What I’m trying to do is to wake up members of the Congress on the Republican side to the idea that they need to come to the table, offer a proposal so that we don’t have to have this kind of calamity in air service in America.”
LaHood said members of Congress would quickly feel the heat.
“Your phones are gonna start ringing off the hook,” LaHood predicted.
LaHood said a majority of the FAA’s 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers, would face furloughs of one day a week and, in some cases, two days a week, to close a $1 billion hole sequester would create in the Department of Transportation’s budget.
An FAA list actually showed more than 200 airports that could lose their towers. Another 60 larger airports would lose overnight shifts at their towers. LaHood said he expected airlines would cancel flights or move them to less busy times.
It would take more than a month for those impacts to take effect, however, because of notice requirements for furloughs. “We have a 30-day window here to prepare people,” LaHood said.
LaHood said his department is also sitting down with unions, looking at its contracts and talking to airlines about ways to save money.
But he said that there is no way to cut $1 billion under the sequester law without deep impacts, noting that there is no flexibility under the law to shift cuts from one account to another.