Collins calls flight delays 'manufactured crisis'

FAA Flight Delays
Elaine Thompson

A JetBlue plane departs in view of the air traffic control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Seattle. A day after flight delays plagued much of the U.S., air travel is smoother Tuesday. But the government is warning passengers that the situation can change by the hour as it runs the nation's air traffic control system with a smaller staff. Airlines and members of Congress urged the Federal Aviation Administration to find other ways to make mandatory budget cuts besides furloughing controllers. While delays haven't been terrible yet, the airlines are worried about the long-term impact late flights will have on their budgets and on fliers. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON — The deadlock over sequestration might have had a dreary same-old quality Tuesday had the budget cuts not tied up the system that delivers 23,000 airplanes, hundreds of thousands of passengers and millions of tons in freight across the nation.

Congress demanded information.

Senators decried a "manufactured crisis."

The Obama administration dug in its heels.

The same players and much the same rhetoric as last year's "fiscal cliff" and debt-ceiling dramas, but this time with the rest of the nation more directly engaged.

"This is a manufactured crisis," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who sits on the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I would add phony and contrived to that description," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.

"As a result of employee furloughs due to sequestration," the Obama administration said in an FAA statement, tmore than 1,200 flights were delayed Monday because 1,500 air traffic controllers were off the job.

The aviation system began to back up again shortly after daybreak Tuesday, with the first delays occurring at New York's three airports and then spreading to the big hub airports in Dallas and Los Angeles, finally touching traffic into the Washington area's Dulles International and Reagan National airports.

The FAA has estimated that a third of passengers will face delays during the furloughs, with up to 6,700 flights arriving late at more than a dozen major airports each day. The agency says furloughs are necessary to achieve $200 million of the $637 million in savings mandated this fiscal year to meet sequestration targets.

Republicans and some Democrats challenged the way the White House has chosen to impose sequestration cuts by furloughing 10 percent of the 15,000 air traffic controllers for the rest of the fiscal year. The administration quietly held firm to the position that ending sequestration all together was the best resolution.

"[Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood indicated to me that he would like to be helpful," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. "His explanation to me is that they are not interested in short-term solutions, but long-term solutions."

Moran said reluctance to create a sequestration loophole to protect controllers "has led to the speculation of many that there is a political effort to try to demonstrate that . . . sequestration is something that is so painful that it can't be accomplished without causing dramatic consequences."

Sens. John Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., and John Thune of South Dakota, the chairman and ranking Republican member of the Senate transportation committee, signed a sharply worded letter demanding to know how much it would cost to end the controller furloughs and keep open 149 control towers slated to close.

"Many stakeholders argue that you have flexibility within your budget to avoid or minimize air traffic controller furloughs," they wrote in the letter, addressed to LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., waded in by introducing a bill that would defer all sequestration cuts until the new fiscal year begins in October. The measure, which proposes to cover the cost by counting savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was derided as a gimmick by Republicans and given no chance of passing.

"Sequestration is now in effect. It's taking a big meat cleaver to something that should have a scalpel," Reid said. "It's fine that everyone talks about airports. I care about flights being held up for 10 minutes, let alone three hours. But I'm also concerned about jobs being lost to the tune of 750,000 people. Seventy-five thousand little boys and girls being cut off Head Start. Homeless veterans being taken out of the homes that we're helping to subsidize."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement Tuesday that some controllers are being paid overtime while others take mandated unpaid days off.

Both the airline industry and members of Congress have expressed frustration that the final furlough plans were announced only last week, with the airlines contending they had little time to plan for the delays.

"Look, the Obama administration knew about the sequester for months," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Yet it gave the traveling public and Congress only three days' notice before implementing the furloughs that are now being blamed for these delays."

The administration brushed off suggestions that air travel is being "used as a pawn in a budget debate," as alleged Monday by Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. The White House is pushing for resolution of the larger sequestration issue and deflected the suggestion that it was using high-profile airport turmoil as leverage.

Immediate relief is unlikely to come from the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday denied an airline industry request for a stay of the furloughs.

The court set a May 22 deadline for the industry group and the FAA to make arguments in the suit filed Friday.

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AL PELLETIER's picture

Funny how times change.

How many of you remember when the air traffic controllers threatened to strike? Reagan said, "you strike, your fired", this is a matter of national security and disruption of commerce.
Now balanced budget laws passed during his tenure are coming back to haunt us, thanks to his current party members.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Collins calls flight delays 'manufactured crisis'

Mainahs, 13.04.24 10:23
Don't be fooled. Manufactured by your Republicans • 
dejá vu all over again • 
/s Steve and the ghosts of Reagan, Regan , Stockman and Gingrich . ...

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I've seen better behavior.........

When will this back and forth bickering stop? Right and Left can't agree on anything. Why drag us, the people who are paying for this circus, into it? Yes the Democrats say the Republicans are at fault, and right back at ya. Who is paying the price for all this garbage? The tax payers. It's time to put your petty differences aside, grow up and do your jobs. I for one am sick of being a pawn in the "Clash of the Titan's".
Start working for the people, not using us as bargaining chips.................

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Typical Republicans easily want to pass the blame...

But is the president somehow stage-managing which cuts go where to focus the pain for political gain?

No. He can't. What is happening now is what the law requires, nothing less and nothing more. The president has no choice but to follow it.

Here's what the laws and the technical analyses say. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), 897 non-defense "budget accounts" -- and the thousands of "programs, payments and activities" within them -- shall be cut by the "same percentage."

This procedure is spelled out in a 1985 Reagan era law called the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, and it was written to be ironclad on spending, other than exempted programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like.

According to the OMB (and the Congressional Research Service), the fiscal cliff law of 2011 requires that "each budget account must be analyzed separately to determine its PPAs [programs, payments and activities]." Then, each agency must "conduct a detailed analysis of their appropriation act(s) for the relevant fiscal year and, if applicable, any legislative report accompanying the act." And then they carry out the cuts accordingly.

Which means no leeway. In the list compiled by the OMB, the Department of Transportation has among its many accounts one for the Federal Aviation Administration. Within it are three budget accounts. One is for "Operations." It is, in OMB lingo, "sequesterable."

So if you think air traffic controllers are being furloughed on purpose, you are right -- but only because that is what Congress chose to do.

Noel Foss's picture

Shrug. I think Collins has a point.

I think that she's taking issue more with the mismanagement of HOW the cuts are being carried out rather than the fact that they're happening.
For instance, they're furloughing 1500 workers (a decision that came from the White House, by the way) as a way of dealing with the sequestration cuts. Why do it all on one day? There's 7 days in a week, why not furlough roughly 200 people per day? Or limit it to Monday-Friday, and do 300 per day instead. Anybody with ANY management experience at all can tell you that if you have to cut 20 hours of payroll, you don't lump them all onto one day; you spread them out over the course of the work week.

But, unlike running a business, there may be an advantage for a government agency to make a seemingly foolish decision like that. With a business, if you piss people off, they go somewhere else and you lose their business. With a government agency, if you piss people off, and insist that it's because of budgetary cutbacks, maybe they complain to their senator and you get more funding.

The poor execution of these furloughs certainly does raise the question of why they weren't handled better. Maybe it's for political gain, or maybe the person in charge of managing the schedule just doesn't know how to do it. That'd fit right in with a lot of what the government does, but if that's the case then perhaps it's time to find somebody else for the job.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Remember Boehner got 98% of what he wanted,,,,

If you read the relevant laws and the sober-minded technical analyses, you know that it is Congress, starting in 1985, that spelled out the straitjacketed process that the president and his administration have no choice but to follow now.

The sequester does not require the administration to cut roughly 8.4 percent across the board. It demands 8.4 percent from each of hundreds of domestic "budget accounts," and 8.4 percent from each of the "programs, payments and activities" within them. The budget cutters can't legally switch one into another.

So for all you Dittoheads who think Obama is personally making you languish in a Transportation Security Administration line at the airport: It's not his fault. Blame congressional negotiators who failed to find a less draconian way to reduce the federal debt by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

This is an obvious point to some, but not to those conservatives who see malevolent intent in every presidential move. Fair-minded voters beyond the Beltway may also be confused. After all, it doesn't take a hardened cynic to suspect a politician of putting his finger on the budget scale for political advantage.

The right conjures up conspiracy. "Obama can pick and choose which cuts to make in order to make Republicans look bad," complained conservative author Rachel Alexander.

Bob White's picture

your a funny man back when

your a funny man back when Bush was president he got blamed for everything even the weather

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

You reap what you sow...

On Aug 6th, 2001 the Daily Intelligence Brief of the US was going to be attacked, by Al Qaeda.

Except the profiteers of war suppliers, the private contractors, his man Paul Brennan that lost billions in cash on pallets to buy off others and the worst of them all the others that lied about WMD's..

Lets not forget the 4000 American lives that died for all of that and I will give you this, they are no longer complaining...

When you get a record of the worst President, he brought that all on himself.

Even today he is not with many friends of his own administration or by those at the Romney's campaign or any mention at the Convention.

Now all that big picture was worth a thousand words, not in his favor..

When he and Cheney and 11 others are not allowed overseas since that would be apprehended for war crimes.

Bob White's picture


WOW big surprise probably the same thing that is going on with the unemployment situation here in Maine. I don't hear you lefties now.


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