The sequester fight returns in the skies

Desepite all the warnings about hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and red flags galore from the Obama Administration about the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, Life With the Sequester went along fairly quietly until this week, as furloughs for air traffic controllers have brought the fight over automatic budget cuts back with a political vengeance.

“I believe this is a manufactured crisis,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

“This is no way to run this government,” said a frustrated Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), as Republicans openly accusing the White House of trying to create a crisis over air travel, in order to rally opposition to automatic spending cuts.

“The political agenda is to try to convince the American people that there are no circumstances under which we can cut spending at all,” Toomey fumed.

The battle spilled on to the Senate floor several times on Tuesday, as Republicans and Democrats exchanged verbal jabs over who is to blame for the automatic cuts and who the public should blame for the flight delays.

“Republicans decided as a political matter that it was a home run for them to inflict this upon the American people,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

“There is no good reason for these delays,” countered Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

“It’s meant to impact in the most negative way possible on the air traveling public,” added Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who labeled it “phony and contrived.”

Late on Tuesday, Democrats tried to bring a bill to the Senate floor to shift money from overseas military operations to erase the $85 billion in sequester cuts this year, but Republicans objected.

The GOP then tried to bring up its own plan to give the FAA more budget flexibility – a plan that was opposed earlier this year by the White House – and that was blocked by Democrats.

On Wednesday, the temperature might go up even more as the FAA Administrator goes before a House spending panel; last week, the FAA chief didn’t give an inch in two hearings that delved into the sequester.

“These are a series of bad choices,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who has left many lawmakers puzzled over his seeming refusal to try to find any way to reduce the number of furlough days for air traffic controllers.

“Many stakeholders argue that you have flexibility within your budget to avoid or minimize air traffic controller furloughs,” read a bipartisan letter sent to the FAA by leading members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, delays piled up on Tuesday at airports in Boston, New York, Washington, Detroit, Memphis and Chicago, as the FAA said it was trying to deal with controller shortages in several regions; more delays are expected Wednesday.

Other than the Boston bombings, this FAA furlough issue is number one for takeoff on the Political Runway in Congress.