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Picking favorites? Congress speedily patches up flight delays

Congress has agreed to forgo furloughs for air traffic controllers after thousands of flights were delayed this week due to budget cuts following the sequester.

Congress has agreed to forgo furloughs for air traffic controllers after thousands of flights were delayed this week due to budget cuts following the sequester.

The Senate approved the bill, Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, on Thursday, and the House passed it Friday. The legislation allows the Department of Transportation to move $253 million from other accounts to the Federal Aviation Administration’s operations.

The sequester--a package of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts --was enacted earlier this year after Congress was unable to reach a compromise to reduce the country’s deficit. The bill provides a way around those automatic, mandated cuts.

The air travel bill, which moved extremely quickly up the chain of command in a Congress known for its gridlock, is coming under scrutiny for leaving less visible, poorer constituents hit by the sequester behind. What about Head Start programs? What about the tens of thousands of teacher positions that were cut? What about the slashed funding for thousands of first responders in local communities? The sequester took money from all of those things--but it's only high-fliers who are being rescued now.

It sparked this headline on The Atlantic: “Politicians will only roll back parts of the sequester that hurt them.”’s Alex Pareene said that the Senate is fixing the part of the sequestration “that affects rich people.” And Burgess Everett, who covers transportation for Politico, tweeted “I have never covered a bill that was introduced and passed all the same day, but flight delays do some crazy things it seems.”

"Ultimately this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Thursday, but he called it “good news for America’s traveling public if Congress spares them these unnecessary delays.”

Carney was quick to point to the plight of other programs.

“We hope Congress will find the same sense of urgency and bipartisan cooperation to help the families who have had children kicked out of Head Start, the seniors who have lost access to Meals on Wheels, the hard-working employees who have been laid off due [to the] defense cuts, and the 750,000 Americans who have lost a job or won't find one because of the sequester by acting on a balanced deficit reduction plan like the one the president has proposed,” he said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer echoed Carney on the House floor Friday.

“It’s picking out a particular group and leaving behind a lot of others, which is a shame,” the Maryland Democrat said about the legislation.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to struggle to pass a 2014 budget. Obama, earlier this month unveiled a $3.8 trillion spending plan, which would raise taxes on the wealthy in exchange for cutting back on benefit programs like Social Security. Both parties have their complaints: Republicans are upset by higher taxes and Democrats are angry about cuts to Social Security.

Still, those spearheading the flight bill argue the legislation will provide much needed relief for travelers.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who co-sponsored the bill, said the legislation should “prevent the onerous delays that have been occurring and were only going to get worse as the traveling season reached its peak this summer.”

Originally, Senate Democratic leaders wanted those in their party to rally around a plan to replace all the cuts to federal agencies (totaling $85 billion through the end of this fiscal year) with money saved from drawing down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But after public outrage over delayed flights across the country, some Democrats teamed with GOPers to push the plan tailored specifically to the FAA. The GOP was quick to take credit. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in a letter to his colleagues, called approval of the bill an “utter cave by Senate Democrats and, if signed, by the White House.” He added, Senate Democrats “were adopting our targeted ‘cut this, not that’ approach.”

For more on this issue, turn into Hardball tonight at 5 and 7 p.m. ET. We'll have msnbc political analysts Joy Reid of and David Corn of Mother Jones on to weigh in.