Published April 27, 2013
The Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday it has suspended furloughs for air traffic controllers, after Congress pressured the Obama administration to end recent, widespread flight delays.
The agency said air traffic facilities will begin to return to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours and the system will resume normal operations by Sunday evening.
Congress approved a bipartisan bill Friday that it sent to President Obama and allowed the FAA to use up to $253 million from an airport improvement program and other accounts to halt the furloughs through Sept. 30, the end of the government's fiscal year.
The furloughs that started Sunday resulted in thousands of delays and cancellations at major airports across the country, with FAA officials warning by late in the week that the situation, combined with weather problems, would continue to cause delays.
Republicans said Saturday the bill shows the Obama administration miscalculated by trying to “inflicting pain” on Americans by allowing massive cuts to the federal budget.
"There are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts, and to impose more tax hikes on the American people," said Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bill Shuster.
Washington allowed the cuts to begin in January, equaling $85 billion just this year, after Republicans would not agree to a plan by Democrats to increase taxes to help solve the country’s budget problems.
Meanwhile, President Obama on Saturday blamed Republicans – first for the cuts, known as sequester, and for the legislation that passed Friday with bipartisan support and that the president is prepared to sign.
"Republicans claimed victory when the sequester first took effect, and now they've decided it was a bad idea all along," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
At the start of the week, the Federal Aviation Administration began furloughing air traffic controllers, saying the mandated cuts were necessary and part of agency-wide furloughs.
Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the FAA could have averted the flight delays on its own by cutting costs elsewhere and adjusting work schedules.
His comments, the Republican response to this week’s presidential address, follow FAA Administrator Michael Huerta telling a Republican-led House committee Wednesday that the agency has few savings options and that it was cutting contracts to run control towers at smaller airports to help save roughly $400 million more.
Obama said Saturday the bill is a "Band-Aid" solution, instead of a solid, long-term plan.
A congressional leadership aide told Fox News the bill still needs a small, technical fix by the Senate on Monday or Tuesday before the president can officially sign it. However, the delay shouldn't impact the FAA since it has the resources to end furloughs now and knew the fix was coming.
The cuts have affected all federal agencies, and the delays last week frustrated travelers enough to pressure Congress, before members left Friday for recess.
The president scolded lawmakers for helping the FAA while doing nothing to replace other cuts that he said harm federal employees, unemployed workers and preschoolers in Head Start.
"Maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted these cuts take hold finally realized that they actually apply to them, too," he said.
Rushed through Congress with remarkable speed, the bill marked a shift for Democrats who had hoped the impact of the cuts would increase pressure on Republicans to reverse them.
Republicans have rejected Obama's proposal to replace the spending reductions with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.
Faced with the prospect that emboldened Republicans will push to selectively undo other painful effects of the cuts, the White House said Friday that a piecemeal approach would be impractical, but wouldn't definitely rule out signing other fixes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.