President Obama signs bill to ease flight delays from FAA furloughs

President Obama signed legislation on Wednesday to end the air traffic controller furloughs from sequestration that were blamed for hundreds of flight delays last week.

The White House said Obama signed the measure, the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 (H.R. 1765), on Wednesday afternoon.

The measure to stop the FAA furloughs, which Congress passed so quickly last week that parts of it were reportedly handwritten, was delayed in getting to Obama because of a typo.

The bill allows the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to move money around in its budget to eliminate furloughs for air traffic controllers. The money would come from a grant program used for airport improvements.

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Obama has criticized the measure as a short-term solution that does not fix the problems caused by the spending cuts from sequestration.

"Congress responded to the short-term problem of flight delays by giving us the option of shifting money that's designed to repair and improve airports over the long term to fix the short-term problem," he said during a press conference on Tuesday. "Well that's not a solution. Essentially what we've done is, we've said, in order to avoid delays this summer, we're going to ensure delays for the next two or three decades."

Obama said on Tuesday that he agreed to the short-term FAA bill because "the alternative, of course, is either to go ahead and impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers now, which also does not fix the problem."

"Frankly, I don't think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix," Obama said. "It just means that there'd be pain now — which they would try to blame on me — as opposed to paying five years from now. But either way, the problem's not getting fixed." 

House Republicans have hailed the FAA fix as a victory for their "cut this, not that" approach to easing problems from the sequester, and argue it should close the door on Obama's call for tax increases to replace the spending cuts.

The FAA's decision to purposely delay hundreds of flights per day last week to deal with an approximately 10 percent reduction in staff created a political firestorm in Washington that sent lawmakers looking to avoid blame for the backed up airplanes.

During the debate over the bills, airlines launched a website to direct passengers to complain about the flight delays to Congress and the Obama administration. The lobbying group for airlines, Airlines for America (A4A), reported by the end of the week that 19,000 people wrote to the FAA and the White House.