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Air Traffic Controller Furloughs Politically Motivated

By Congressman Jo Bonner

If you traveled by plane over the last week, you may have encountered delays.  Your frustration was likely due to the Obama administration’s decision to furlough a portion of the nation’s air traffic controllers due to budget cuts.

On March 1st, the federal government began what most American families, workers and businesses have been doing for some time now – reducing spending.  Because the president and Congress could not reach agreement over where to cut, the spending reductions were automatic – approximately 2.7 percent overall from most of the federal budget, excluding Social Security and Medicare.  The amount of Uncle Sam’s belt tightening is modest to be sure, about $45 billion from a $3.5 trillion annual budget.

When these “sequester” cuts took effect, President Obama warned that the country would virtually shut down.  Despite the fact that his White House first proposed the sequester as a last ditch effort to control federal spending, the president painted a picture of an America completely disrupted by the sequester’s relatively small budget cuts.  When March 1st passed without a government shutdown, a disappointed White House canceled all its popular public tours in order to remind us that we still need more government spending.

On April 21, the Federal Aviation Administration began furloughing air traffic controllers in response to the sequester cuts.  According to news reports, up to 40 percent of flights have been delayed since the furloughs began.  Americans are angry, and with good reason.  Thanks to spending cuts aimed at exacting the most painful outcome, the Obama administration is upending family vacations, school field trips and business meetings.

President Obama’s hometown newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, bluntly assigned blame to the administration:  “They’ve (FAA) had a year and a half to prepare for a sequester that the White House proposed, and that the president signed into law. Yet their idea of good management is to subject thousands of civilian air controllers to rolling furloughs?”

The Federal Aviation Administration is choosing to implement President Obama’s sequester in the most irresponsible, harmful way possible just to make a political point.  The FAA’s $15.9 billion budget was trimmed $637 million due to the sequester.  Interestingly, the president’s own FAA budget proposal for fiscal 2013 was actually less than the FAA’s actual budget this year even with the sequester cuts in place.  The air traffic controller furloughs could be avoided if the White House felt the traveling public and the economy were more important than politics.

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Contrast this with the nearly 20 percent in budget cuts the U.S. House of Representatives has undertaken over the last two and a half years without significant disruption in service.  Under Speaker Boehner, the House voluntarily reduced our own operating budget well before the sequester.  Unlike the president, we’ve not stopped the popular U.S. Capitol tours.

Last Friday, Congress passed legislation underscoring that the FAA has flexibility to spend its taxpayer funds in the service of the American people, and not hold them hostage to political games.  The Obama administration has no more excuses but to finally do its job of administering its transportation budget in a responsible manner.

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