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Senate approves bill to ease air-travel delays

April 25, 2013 at 9:15 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Thursday passed a bill to ease air-travel delays by ending air traffic controllers furloughs caused by across-the-board federal spending cuts.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was approved by unanimous consent. It would give the Federal Aviation Administration greater flexibility to move funds internally, instead of applying spending cuts uniformly throughout its budget.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., had offered a competing bill similar to Collins' bill and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had proposed a bill to raise taxes on corporate jet owners to generate revenue for the FAA, The Hill reported.

The air-travel problems arose as a result of air-traffic controller furloughs tied to $85 billion in across-the-board cuts known as the sequester. The furloughs, which started Sunday, require a day off without pay for every 10 workdays, or a total of 11 days off, through the end of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

While some senators focused on aiding air passengers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., renewed his effort to repeal the sequester altogether and urged Democrats to support a plan to replace sequester cuts with money saved from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reid said his plan would give Democrats and Republicans time to work out a longer-term fiscal deal, The Wall Street Journal said.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in February cutting the number of overseas troops could save Washington $582 billion between 2014 and 2023.

Republicans call revenue from that savings a budget gimmick because it's based on not having spent money that wasn't going to be spent anyway.

Any new bill targeting air-travel woes would likely come to the Senate floor no earlier than the week after next, a Senate Democratic aide told the Journal.

The Senate is in recess next week.

Some Democrats don't want to wait until after the break.

"It is better to do a big deal. But as we work toward it, we have to admit that some things are very problematic," Klobuchar told the Journal.

The aviation agency has said, at present, it can't avoid furloughs because of the way the mandated budget cuts are written into the Budget Control Act of 2011.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration supported Reid's plan to end the sequester but would be open to legislation aimed specifically at fixing the FAA problems.

"If Congress wants to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA, we would be open to looking at that," he said. "But that would be a band-aid measure."

The White House has argued Congress should replace the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and tax revenue increases.

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