The Senate has just voted to give the Department of Transportation (DOT) the necessary budget flexibility to end the disruptive furloughs that have caused thousands of flight delays since taking effect earlier this week. The bill, which passed by unanimous consent, would allow the DOT to transfer more than $250 million to the Federal Aviation Administration to fund operations through October, enough to end the furloughs and keep open 149 air traffic control towers that had been scheduled to close. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Republican lawmakers, two former solicitors general, the airline industry, and a number of FAA employees, argued that the furloughs were unecessary to begin with; many accused the Obama administration of deliberately inconveniencing the flying public to acheive political gain, and persuade Republicans to raise taxes to end the sequester. If that was the plan, it backfired. FAA administrator Michael Huerta complained to members of Congress yesterday that he didn’t have the flexibility to avoid the furloughs. But neither Huerta, nor the White House, ever asked Congress for greater flexibility.
“Something rare has happened in Washington; the Senate came together on a bipartisan basis to put common sense before politics,” Senator Jerry Moran (R., Kan), one of the most outspoken critics the FAA’s handling of the sequester, said in a statement. “While I believe the White House already had the flexibility they needed to avoid this situation, the bill passed tonight unequivocally directs the FAA to solve this problem and find savings elsewhere in their budget.”