Late Thursday, Senate Democrats moved legislation to shift federal funds, allowing the FAA to cancel its planned furloughs of air traffic controllers. The proposal, which passed as Senators were leaving town for a week-long recess, would shift $250 million within the Department of Transportation budget to prevent any future furloughs of air traffic controllers, which had caused some delays this week at airports around the country.
The vote is a firm rejection of the Obama Administration’s handling of the sequester budget cuts. As part of the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011, Congress enacted across-the-board spending cuts in all discretionary spending. As a result, the FAA, which manages air traffic control, among other functions, had to trim its spending by 5%. It choose to find these savings by furloughing air traffic controllers, causing delays at certain congested airports.
The Senate vote to shift funds within the Transportation Department’s budget is action the Obama Administration could have taken on its own. By furloughing air traffic controllers, however, the Obama Administration seemed set on making the sequester budget cuts as painful on the public as possible. Without Thursday’s action by Senate Democrats, the summer travel season could have been marked by significant airport delays.
The House will consider the Senate passed provision on Friday, before it leaves for its week-long recess. The provision is expected to pass.
The political fortunes of Senate Democrats are no longer aligned with the priorities of President Obama.