By Keith Laing
Republicans argued that the Obama administration was purposely delaying flights at major airports to win support in the sequester budget fight from frustrated airline passengers.
"There are 47,000 employees at the FAA and 15,000 controllers,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said at a GOP leadership press conference to spotlight the flight delays. “They don’t need to start with the 15,000 controllers."
Shuster said the delays could be mitigated if the agency focused on keeping air traffic controller staffing levels high at major airports.
“They are treating Chicago, that has 8,000 flights a day, the same as they’re treating Waterloo, Iowa, that has 80 flights a day,” he said. "We can do this in a smarter way. This administration has the flexibility to do that, and they’re not doing it.”
The White House angrily denied it was purposely delaying flights to inconvenience airline passengers again on Wednesday.
"Let's be clear. The sequester was a law written by Congress. Congress wrote the law. Congress passed the law. Members of Congress should read the law," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
The agency said 1,025 flights were delayed because of sequestration furloughs on Tuesday, along with another 975 airplane departures that were pushed back because of weather and other issues.
FAA officials say they have no choice but to furlough air traffic controllers in addition to its other employees because it is required to cut its budget by $600 million under the sequester. The agency disputes Republican arguments that it can make cuts in other areas of its budget, arguing that the sequester requires it to make cuts everywhere across its budget.
Meanwhile, the agency said again on Wednesday that it will "continue to work with the airlines throughout the day to try and minimize delays for travelers.
"We encourage all travelers to check their flight status and also to visit fly.faa.gov for the latest airport delay information," the FAA said.
Justin Sink and Russell Berman contributed to this report.