In shift, Schumer offers support for shielding FAA from sequester cuts

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is open to legislation that would soften the blow the sequester is having on air travel. 

Flight delays across the country have been blamed on furloughs given to air traffic controllers, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said are necessary because of the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.

Democrats, up to now, have staunchly opposed addressing the impact of the sequester piecemeal by reorganizing the approximately $60 billion in automatic cuts scheduled for the rest of the fiscal year, but the air traffic delays appear to be leading to a shift in their position.

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“It would be a lot better to figure out a better way to undo the whole sequester as opposed to doing it piecemeal. Having said that, I certainly would be open to an FAA solution because the transportation department is under an undue amount of immediate squeeze,” Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, said at a breakfast Thursday sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

“As we know, the transportation department probably has probably the worst squeeze on sequestration because so many of their employees are not affected because they’re funded in good part by trust funds,” Schumer added. “It squeezes the air traffic controllers. I know that Sen. Rockefeller, along with Sen. Thune was meeting with the FAA to try to come up with a solution, and I would certainly be open to it.”

A GOP aide said fixing the sequester for the rest of the fiscal year would cost $68 billion.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the ranking Republican on Commerce, met with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta Wednesday.

Schumer noted that White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that the president would consider a sequestration fix targeted narrowly on air traffic controllers.

“The law was written in a way that prevents the kind of actions that could mitigate — that some outside observers and lawmakers suggest are available,” Carney said. “Congress has to act. Now, if Congress wants to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA, we would be open to looking at that. But that would be a Band-Aid measure.”

Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

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