Republicans blame Obama for ‘manufacturing’ flight delays

Travelers in line at Los Angeles International airport Monday, April 22, 2013.
Travelers in line at Los Angeles International airport Monday, April 22, 2013.
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

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Lawmakers slammed Obama for manufacturing flight delays following the furlough of Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said the president was “manufacturing a crisis for political gain” on Wednesday’s Morning Joe.

The FAA has required that all of its 47,000 employees—including its 15,000 air traffic controllers—to take one day off every two weeks, as part of a plan to save $637 million in cuts by the end of September. On Tuesday, the FAA announced that these staff reductions had caused “more than 1,200 delays in the system,” in just one day of furloughing employees. (There were an additional 1,400 delays due to weather.)

“The president, frankly, and many in his administration were so shrill about this leading up to the sequester that now they feel like they better make it painful or they look pretty foolish having predicted all the dire consequences,” Toomey said, adding that Obama’s budget proposal gives the agency even less money than they have now, with the sequester in effect.

Sequestration, automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, went into effect in March after Congress couldn’t agree on the budget cuts a 2011 law had mandated in order to reduce the nation’s deficit. The automatic cuts were designed to force Congress to compromise, as the broad cuts are disliked by both parties. The recent flight delays are the first widespread public display of the consequences of sequestration and lawmakers have rushed blame others for the cuts.

Republicans across the country started using a hashtag, #ObamaFlightDelays, in the blame game. Prominent Republicans such as Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell, Ohio’s Rep. John Boehner, and Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins have all slammed the president for the flight delays, too.

“This is extremely irresponsible, to implement these modest savings in the most disruptive way when there are so many alternatives. The FAA operates a fleet of 26 jets—they spend $143 million a year on that, they have half a billion dollars in consultants they pay. The air traffic controllers are less than a third of all the employees of the FAA. If some people need to be furloughed, couldn’t it be the nonessential employees?” Toomey said on Wednesday’s Morning Joe. “The president is choosing to make it disruptive.”

Toomey’s Pennsylvania colleague, Rep. Bill Shuster, another Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, released a statement slamming the administration and demanding different cuts to achieve the statement.

“This disregard for the American public is indicative that the administration views the sequester as an attempt to score political points rather than address real issues and find real savings in a bloated federal bureaucracy,” he wrote.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler fact-checked the dramatic dispute and noted that the FAA’s budget isn’t nearly as simple as lawmakers say: what is dubbed “consultant fees” are telecommunications and weather radar systems integral to the system and the travel costs decried by Shuster primarily pay for the transportation of repair workers, according to the FAA.

“The biggest issue for the FAA is that 71% of its operations budget goes to pay salaries for controllers, supervisors, air safety inspectors and technicians. When an agency with high personnel costs is asked to cut about 5% of its annual budget in just seven months, by definition a large chunk of that has to come from personnel,” Kessler wrote. While he held off from issuing his traditional “Pinocchio” rating until more data is available, he writes that “on balance, the FAA makes a better case.”

White House Spokesman Jay Carney responded to the flight delays in a press briefing on Tuesday.

“Now, if Congress has another idea about how to alleviate the challenges that sequester has caused for the FAA and for American travelers, we are open to looking at that. And we’re happy to look at it,” Carney said. “But let’s be clear: This – if they were to take that action – and we would be open to looking at it – any short-term or targeted fix to this problem is just a Band-Aid because the fact is there are a variety of, a broad variety of negative effects of sequester.”

Republicans blame Obama for ‘manufacturing’ flight delays