Flight delay spat renews sequester war

After several rounds of finger-pointing, both parties in both houses of Congress passed a bill this week that would limit the sequester's impact on the Federal Aviation Administration, which was blamed for thousands of flight delays. In the wake of that agreement, President Obama and the GOP each portrayed the spat as evidence that they were right all along about the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last month.

"This episode is yet another demonstration of why we need to replace the president's sequester with smarter, more responsible cuts," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., in the weekly GOP address Saturday.

Blaming the week's flight delays on "the way in which the Obama administration chose to implement the president's automatic sequestration cuts," Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, "From the get-go, the Federal Aviation Administration could have acted on its own to responsibly implement the president's sequester without inflicting this kind of pain on the public. Instead, the FAA imposed blanket, across-the-board furloughs, including air traffic controllers, causing these extensive delays."

"Travelers were fed up, and rightly so," Shuster said. And it all happened, he said, "because there are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts, and to impose more tax hikes on the American people."

"Fortunately, after a public outcry and pressure from Congress," Shuster said, "the Obama administration agreed to a legislative solution to address these flight delays. "

Shuster's point - that the administration caved - was made even more baldly on Friday in a letter to the House GOP conference from Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who called the FAA furlough fix a "victory" for Republicans.

"Consider that the Democrats' opening position was they would only replace the sequester with tax increases," Cantor wrote. "And by last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted 'cut this, not that' approach."

Mr. Obama welcomed the "temporary fix" in his own address on Saturday but cautioned that it was only a "Band-Aid," saying, "These cuts are scheduled to keep falling across other parts of the government that provide vital services for the American people. And we can't just keep putting Band-Aids on every cut."

"Republicans claimed victory when the sequester first took effect," Mr. Obama said, "and now they've decided it was a bad idea all along."

After Congress left on Friday for a weeklong recess, Mr. Obama implied the sequester quick-fix was a bit of fortuitous timing on the part of lawmakers: "Maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted these cuts take hold finally realized that they actually apply to them too."

"I hope members of Congress will find the same sense of urgency and bipartisan cooperation to help the families still in the crosshairs of these cuts," the president said. "They may not feel the pain felt by kids kicked off Head Start or the 750,000 Americans projected to lose their jobs because of these cuts ... but that pain is real."