Hallelujah! It’s a miracle! Congress actually dealt with an issue within a week and the solution to the problem was overwhelmingly supported by both Republicans and Democrats.
Late Thursday, the Senate passed legislation that would allow the Department of Transportation to shuffle their budget money between accounts so air traffic controllers would not need to take furlough days. The House of Representatives gave final approval to the bill Friday morning. This legislation does not give the DOT any more money, just flexibility in the use of what they already have. Presidential spokesperson Jay Carney said Mr. Obama will sign the bill.
I have to travel by air this summer, so I am glad Congress fixed this problem. But I am still annoyed that the White House, or the FAA, or both, made it a problem in the first place. Senators from both parties had proposed this measure for the FAA when the Sequester went into effect, but President Obama threatened a veto. Apparently he wanted to make a political point by allowing furloughs to begin regardless of whether they disrupted commerce for airlines and business travelers, and inconvenienced other passengers.
I have one question that has not been answered (actually not even asked). Furloughs are supposed to be required for only non-essential personnel. (At the local Bureau of Land Management office, the plan if furloughs are necessary is that essential employees such as law enforcement rangers would not face furloughs.) While air traffic controllers’ salaries make up 40% of the FAA payroll, you have to agree that they are essential, so why should they be furloughed at all?
The passage of this legislation, which affects only the FAA, highlights the fact that many sequester related problems could be minimized by giving agencies authority to transfer funds between accounts. Republicans proposed such a plan in late February and again in early March, but President Obama said then that he would veto any such legislation. You might want to contact your members of Congress and urge them to continue to press for this solution to the entire Sequester.
In the meantime, the skies will soon be a little friendlier if the President signs this legislation.