Collision course on FAA sequester cuts

Republicans and Democrats traded charges on Monday over sequester cuts to air traffic controllers at the FAA, as after weeks of political skirmishes over automatic budget cuts, this fight over air travel threatened to quickly develop into a full blown political storm.

“Why is President Obama unnecessarily delaying your flight?” asked Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), as GOP lawmakers accused the FAA of trying to use this budget fight to create air travel troubles.

Democrats returned the fire, rapping Republicans for allowing automatic budget cuts to go into effect in the first place.

“Thousands of flights every day will be delayed for up to three hours,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said the delays will give regular Americans what he labeled “their first taste of the pain of sequestration.”

Many travelers did get a taste of travel days, on a day when weather wasn’t a problem, as the AP noted on Monday:

United Airlines said there were “alarming pockets” of delays and warned that if a solution isn’t found, the problem could “affect air travel reliability for our customers.”

Delta Air Lines cautioned travelers to expect delays in New York, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Many flights heading to Florida were seeing delays of up to an hour. By late Monday, delays into Los Angeles were expected to average three hours.

Republicans accused the FAA of manufacturing a crisis, all but saying the agency hasn’t tried to find other ways to save money.

“It is our belief that the FAA is not pursuing every avenue possible to save money without affecting its overall mission,” said a letter from Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, both of Georgia.

The outrage wasn’t just from the GOP side, as some Democrats also railed on the FAA, charging the agency hasn’t answered questions from the Congress on the automatic cuts issue.

Meanwhile, Democrats indicated they would be opposed to any legislation that addresses only the FAA air traffic controller funding issue.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called on the GOP to do away with the $85 billion sequester entirely or deal with it by adopting the President’s “balanced” plan of budget cuts and tax increases, something Republican leaders have ridiculed.

“We cannot and we should not address only the FAA cuts,” said Sen. Reid on the Senate floor.

Republicans said the message was clear from Democrats – either the GOP agrees to tax increases or Americans get a summer of major airline flight delays.

What if these air traffic delays grow more and more widespread?  Would either side blink?

This issue may be number one for takeoff.