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Sequester, Flight Delays Breed Confusion

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Huerta has become the main target of criticism from both parties over the past few days, as air travel delays mount.

“Mr. Chairman, we’ve been talking about this since February. We’ve talked about our need to reduce our contract expenditures and thereby to withdraw federal funding and close federal contract towers — at that time,” he said. “We also talked about the need to furlough our employees and we said that that would lead to significant delays up to 90 minutes at major hub facilities.”

“The Congress can’t operate like that. This imperial attitude on the part of the administration — and you’re the most recent example of that imperialism — is disgusting,” an enraged Rogers said.

Rockefeller, who helped push through a much-delayed FAA reauthorization last year, was among those watching the House Appropriations hearing.

“He just kind of plastered everybody up against the wall, which is fine,” Rockefeller said of Rogers, but the Senate chairman took a somewhat more conciliatory tone toward the FAA in advance of a meeting with LaHood and Huerta that he and Commerce ranking Republican John Thune of South Dakota were due to attend.

“People think that there’s so much that the FAA can do,” Rockefeller said. “It’s not like other agencies that have a lot of ... slush funds here and slush funds there.”

There’s been no shortage of senators rushing to float ideas for how to offset the cuts required by the sequester, at least as it goes to reducing the airport delays.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., suggested allowing LaHood to use money from other Transportation Department accounts to pay for the FAA operations. Huerta told House appropriators Wednesday that such authority does not currently exist.

Some of the offerings may be little more than political exercises, however.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has suggested using increased revenue from ending a tax preference program for corporate jets to stop the FAA furloughs.

“Instead of protecting tax breaks for wealthy corporate jet owners who don’t need them, we should be keeping commercial air travel fully operational for middle class families and small businesses,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposed using budget savings from money not being spent on foreign wars to forestall the sequester overall, but that suggestion faced objections. GOP senators were quick to decry it as a budget gimmick, because no one expects to spend the money in Afghanistan anyway.

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