WASHINGTON (AP) — As airport delays spread across the country, members of Congress on Tuesday urged the administration to postpone the furloughing of air traffic controllers to give the White House and Congress time to find a less painful way of handling automatic spending cuts.
Two senators, Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas and Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said putting off the furloughing of air traffic controllers should be combined with a reversal of Federal Aviation Administration plans to close 149 contract air control towers as another way to meet reduced spending goals.
And the top two senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Democratic Chairman John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia and Republican John Thune of South Dakota, have sent a letter to the administration questioning its approach to the automatic spending cuts and saying that the furloughs and closing of control towers raise "serious safety and operational issues."
FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers, and close the control towers in order to meet obligations under the sequester, or spending cuts.
Republicans have taken issue with that position, charging that the administration is using the furloughs, and the resultant flight delays, to force Republicans to compromise on budget and tax issues.
Moran said there was speculation among lawmakers from both parties that "there is an effort afoot to try to demonstrate that the sequester is something that is so painful that it cannot be accomplished without causing dramatic consequences."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, denied allegations by Republicans that he's making a political statement by imposing the furloughs in an area that's visible to taxpayers.