By Bernie Becker - 02/24/13 02:22 PM EST
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stressed Sunday that the Obama administration was not exaggerating the effects of looming sequestration.
LaHood, a former GOP congressman, had said at a White House briefing on Friday that the $85 billion in automatic cuts set to start going into effect on March 1 would require furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and throw air travel in the country into a tailspin.
But LaHood said furloughs would still be necessary, even after the department ended contracts and found savings elsewhere. “This is not stuff we decided to make up,” he said.
"This sequester is very serious business,” LaHood added. “And it requires us to make the reductions that we’re making. It requires us, as painful as it is, to furlough the people that we’re going to have to furlough.”
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," however, LaHood cautioned that the FAA would be careful not to take any steps that could compromise traveler safety.
"One thing we never compromise on is safety. We will never take a back seat to safety," he said. "Safety will not be compromised. But we will have to work with the airlines in slowing planes down. But there'll be enough controllers to make sure planes are guided in and out of airports safely.
“I’m a Republican. My audience is trying to persuade my former colleagues that they need to come to the table with a proposal, which frankly they haven’t done,” LaHood said on CNN.
“I also at that news conference said: ‘Everybody around here ought to go take a look at the “Lincoln” movie, where they did very hard things by working together,” he added.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chided LaHood and the administration on “State of the Union” for playing the blame game on sequestration.
“Shame on Ray LaHood,” McCain said, before laughing.
“I won't put all the blame on the president of the United States,” McCain added. “But the president leads. The president should be calling us over somewhere, Camp David, the White House, somewhere, and sitting down and trying to avert these cuts.”
LaHood on NBC pushed back at claims that the president had failed to reach out to GOP leaders.
“The idea the president hasn't reached out is just not true. It's not factual,” said LaHood. “He's reached out. He's talking to Republican leaders. He's put a plan on the table.”
He said the pressure was now on Congress to act to avert the budget axe. “Now it's the Congress's opportunity this week, as they come back from listening to their constituents about all the hurt that's going to be taking place in the country as a result of this sequester,” he added. “I believe these members of Congress will push their leaders to say, ‘Let's fix this before Friday.’"
Meghashyam Mali contributed
This story was last updated at 1:13 p.m.