Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, sent a letter to LaHood asking him to halt the furloughs until the FAA analyzes the situation and develops alternatives.
“This is mismanagement at its worst — it’s incompetence at its worst,” Coats said. “It’s a failure to do what every agency has been required to do – plan for this. This administration needs to step up to the plate and take some accountability. The president created and signed into law the sequestration policy. His administration has known for more than 12 months that this policy was imminent. And they did nothing to prepare effectively.”
But the White House and its Democratic supporters insist the blame lies elsewhere. Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, said Congress adopted the sequester as a means to cut spending and reduce the deficit and Republican lawmakers are now facing the consequences of their actions.
“The fact is Congress had an opportunity, but Republicans made a choice,” Carney said. “And this is a result of a choice they made to embrace the sequester as — and I’m quoting Republicans – ‘a victory for the Tea Party’ and ‘a home run.’ I’m not sure if leaders in the Republican Party and that Congress agree with those assessments now, because they’ve obviously changed their position on the sequester a variety of times over the last several months.”
Sequestration, Carney said, should never have become policy.
“The president has put forward a comprehensive, balanced approach to deficit reduction that would eliminate the sequester,” Carney said. “But this is Congress’s responsibility. It needs to take action.”
Carney said the FAA is taking the only route available to it.
“The FAA has initiated a series of cost-saving measures, both personnel and non-personnel related, including a hiring freeze, restrictions on travel, termination of certain temporary employees and reductions to contracts, among other savings,” he said. “But the fact is 70 percent of the FAA’s operations budget is personnel. So there is simply no way to avoid furloughs.”
Some lawmakers are looking for ways around the problem. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, announced plans to use about $650 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operation fund, saved as a result of the end of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, to pay down the sequester, providing the FAA and other agencies with some breathing room.
“I think we should do something about sequestration — it’s important we do,” Reid said, adding, “we could do it for five months. During this five-month period, we could come up with something longer-term.”
Meanwhile, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) already have introduced legislation to prohibit the Department of Transportation from closing any air traffic control towers for the remainder of the fiscal year and in FY 2014 as well.
“The FAA has $50 million necessary to sustain all 149 air traffic control towers and the closing is a misguided decision causing needless harm to employees, their communities, and regional economies, as well as air travel,” Blumenthal said.
“The administration’s insistence on deliberately inconveniencing air travelers instead of prioritizing their safety falls right in line with its history of putting politics before common sense,” Sen. Moran said. “The FAA’s recent action of delaying the 149 contract control tower closures indicates what we have known all along: the agency’s financial state is not as dire as initially projected. They do have flexibility when it comes to sequestration.”
“Savings can and should be found elsewhere, and the Senate stands ready to work with them on a bipartisan basis to find a solution, but they refuse to come to the table,” Moran continued. “I am baffled by the administration’s continued insistence on putting its top-line message – that we can’t cut a dime without severe consequences – before the safety and well-being of Americans.”