WASHINGTON — The Obama administration signaled Wednesday it might accept legislation eliminating Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs blamed for lengthy delays affecting airline passengers, while leaving the rest of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in place.
The disclosure came as sentiment grew among Senate Democrats and Republicans for legislation to ease the impact of the cuts on the FAA, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held talks with key senators.
“I think there was a meeting of the minds” on steps to remedy the situation, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said after the meeting. He said he hoped for a resolution before the Senate begins a scheduled weeklong vacation at week’s end.
According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which is privy to FAA data, there were 5,800 flight delays across the country for the three days beginning Sunday, when the furloughs took effect. Some were caused by weather. The union said that compares with 2,500 delays for the same period a year ago.
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At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said that if Congress “wants to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA, we would be open to looking at that.”
Officials estimate the FAA furloughs will save slightly more than $200 million through Sept. 30, a small fraction of the $85 billion in overall reductions that stem from across-the-board cuts, officially known as a sequester, that took effect in March.
Neither Rockefeller nor LaHood disclosed the terms of possible legislation.
Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, was joined at the meeting by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the panel’s senior Republican, as well as LaHood and Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator.
Some lawmakers have criticized Huerta, saying they were blindsided by the flight delays. Huerta got a public tongue-lashing Wednesday, when he appeared before the House Appropriations Committee. “You didn’t forewarn us this was coming. You didn’t ask advice about how we should handle it. This imperial attitude on the part of this administration … is disgusting,” Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said.
Huerta said LaHood had warned at a news conference in February that the furloughs were coming and could create flight delays of up to 90 minutes. He also said he had testified about them at a hearing before a different committee over the winter.