Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain thinks airline flight delays are getting too much public attention, while military budget cuts under the sequester are attracting fewer headlines.
At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday, McCain said he could agree to a plan to curtail the effects of sequestration on the FAA, but he blasted his congressional colleagues for not being as vocal about issues with military readiness and national security.
“Yeah, I’m glad to see all the focus on whether we have to wait in line longer or — if there’s flight delays, but I wish to God the Congress of the United States would focus on the threats to our nation’s security,” McCain said.
“We’ve got our priorities upside down,” McCain said of the intense interest in the airport delays caused by air traffic controller furloughs. While he noted that he had dealt with flight trouble himself, a visibly frustrated McCain sought to turn the conversation back to national security implications of defense spending reductions.
McCain highlighted testimony of Pentagon officials at the Armed Services Committee.
“Every one of our uniformed service chiefs have said we can’t defend the nation,” with the sequester cuts at the Defense Department.
He expressed particular outrage at the possibility that able-bodied members of the military would choose to leave service because of having “no future” path for advancement in the Defense Department.
“If we’re going to take care of airline passengers ... why don’t take care of our national security?” McCain said. “It’s criminal and scandalous that we are ignoring the effect of sequestration on our national security.”
The breakfast primarily focused on immigration issues, which is why McCain was appearing with fellow immigration overhaul “gang of eight” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who noted that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney signaled Wednesday that President Barack Obama could accept a standalone measure designed to curb flight delays.
Schumer said that the effect of the automatic across-the-board budget cuts required when a series of deficit reduction efforts failed to yield fruit have an undue effect on the aviation operations because other transportation programs funded through trust funds (such as highway programs) are not subject to cutbacks.
“It squeezes the air traffic controllers,” the New York Democrat said.
Schumer referenced a meeting between Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and the leaders of the Senate’s transportation authorizing committee Wednesday afternoon that Schumer hoped could provide some sort of solution.
Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and ranking member John Thune, R-S.D., met with LaHood and Huerta. A Thune aide said the meeting was requested following a letter seeking answers to 18 different questions about sequester implementation and consequences for the flying public.
“It was a productive meeting and all parties are engaged in finding a solution that addresses the current flight delays caused by the FAA decision to furlough air traffic controllers,” Thune said in a statement after the meeting.
The FAA has reported thousands of flight delays this week as a result of furloughs to air traffic controllers and other budget cuts.