Congress passes bill to reduce flight delays from furloughs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seeking to end flight delays that jammed airports nationwide, the House approved legislation Friday that will stop the furlough of air traffic controllers, sending the bill to President Barack Obama.

Final passage of the quickly arranged stopgap measure came as lawmakers were boarding their own flights out of Washington for a weeklong recess.

The House overwhelmingly approved the bill, 361-41, but not without a round of political finger-pointing over who is to blame for the across-the-board sequester cuts that furloughed air traffic controllers and caused hours-long flight delays this week, angering travelers across the country.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president will sign the bill, but also blasted Congress for not taking steps to shield students, government employees and others from the effect of the budget cuts.

But Republicans also assailed the administration. “The administration has played shameful politics with sequestration at the expense of hardworking American families,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, in introducing the bill. “We’re taking this step because of the gross mismanagement.”

A top Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said the bill failed to deal with other fallouts from the $85 billion in cuts, such as protecting children in Head Start preschools, seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels food deliveries and others who have lost federal services.

“Nothing in here for them,” Hoyer thundered during the rare Friday morning session of the House. “We ought to help everyone else as well.”

The bill — a slim, three-page fix called the “Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013” — shows how quickly a sharply divided Congress can reverse course when confronted with public protest.

The measure would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to use $253 million from other accounts to keep the air traffic controllers on the job.

The Senate approved it unanimously late Thursday, after most senators had already left town. Senate officials said the funding would also prevent the closure of 149 contract control towers, mostly in rural areas, that had been slated for later this year.

Lawmakers had reluctantly agreed to the sequester cuts earlier this year after they had been unable to reach an alternative deficit-reduction plan. The across-the-board cuts had been seen as so draconian, they would force Democrats and Republicans to the table for a compromise. That never happened.

The Obama administration was criticized after warning that deep reductions would disrupt the economy. The cuts started March 1, but are only now beginning to be felt on a large scale.