WASHINGTON – With flight delays mounting, the Senate approved hurry-up legislation Thursday night to end air traffic controller furloughs blamed for inconveniencing large numbers of travelers.
A House vote on the measure was expected as early as today, with lawmakers eager to embark on a weeklong vacation.
Under the legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration would gain authority to transfer up to $253 million from accounts that are flush into other programs, to “prevent reduced operations and staffing” through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
In addition to restoring full staffing by controllers, Senate officials said the available funds should be ample enough to prevent the closure of small airport towers around the country. The FAA has said it will shut the facilities as it makes its share of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last month at numerous government agencies.
There was no immediate reaction at the White House, although administration officials participated in the negotiations that led to the deal and evidently registered no objections.
For the White House and Senate Democrats, the discussions on legislation relating to one relatively small slice of the $85 billion in spending cuts marked a shift in position in a long-running struggle with Republicans over budget issues.
Obama favors a comprehensive agreement that replaces the entire $85 billion in across-the-board cuts as part of a broader deficit-reduction deal that includes higher taxes and spending cuts.
One Senate Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, noted that without the type of comprehensive deficit deal that Obama favors, a bill that eases the spending crunch at the FAA would inevitably be followed by other single-issue measures.
At the same time, Democratic aides said resolve had crumbled under the weight of widespread delays for the traveling public and pressure from the airlines.