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WASHINGTON — The House on Friday quickly approved a Senate plan to end furloughs of air traffic controllers and alleviate travelers’ frustrations of canceled and delayed flights that plagued airports this week.
A day after the Senate’s unanimous approval, the House on Friday voted 361-41 to provide the Federal Aviation Administration more flexibility over where to make budget cuts required by the sequester.
After the vote, lawmakers streamed toward the exits — and airports — for a weeklong spring recess.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr. Obama would sign the bill, but Mr. Carney complained that the measure left the rest of the sequester intact.
“This is a Band-Aid solution. It does not solve the bigger problem,” he said.
Using the same Band-Aid comparison, Rep. Rick Larsen (D., Wash.) said that “the sequester needs triple bypass surgery.”
The bill lets the FAA use up to $253 million from capital improvements and other accounts to end the furloughs at least through Sept. 30.
“We’re not spending one penny more. All the money is there already; it’s just being redirected,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R., Pa.).
Republicans said the administration already had the authority to restructure the spending reductions but instead made more painful cuts that would help advance Democrats’ tax-and-spend agenda.
The new legislation clarifies that flexibility, Republicans said.
“This legislation ensures beyond a shadow of a doubt that the agency now has more than enough capacity to end air traffic control furloughs, stop the pain for the traveling public, and protect the economy,” Mr. Shuster said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) blamed President Obama and the FAA for furloughing air traffic controllers instead of making less disruptive cuts.
“The President has an obligation to implement these cuts in a way that respects the American people, rather than using them for political leverage,” Mr. Boehner said.
Airports were among the first places many felt the effects of the sequester cuts, but it may not be the last flashpoint as other federal departments furlough employees and cut spending.
Democrats have been wary of a piecemeal approach to the sequester, which had been intended to be painful in order to inspire agreement on a broad and lasting alternative spending plan.
“If this is an example of governance — that the Republicans will next come up with something else and say we should exempt that — well, why don’t we just get rid of the problem?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said in a floor speech. “This is not the way Congress should be meeting the needs of the American people.”
Mr. Shuster said the FAA fix is unique because the airline industry accounts for 5 percent of the economy and because travel to business meetings is crucial to other sectors.
“Going into the busiest travel season of the year [furloughs] were going to cause great damage to the economy, and that’s why we had to implement this. There was a lot of pressure this week on the administration,” he said.
Effects of sequester cuts to other areas don’t have the same breadth and depth, he said.
“If you shut down a park, you may inconvenience people but you’re not wreaking havoc,” Mr. Shuster said. “I don’t see where we’d do this” in other areas.
Ms. Pelosi, meanwhile, called on Republicans in both chambers to agree to a conference committee to publicly hash out their differences and end the sequester.
“Sequestration is a mindless, across-the-board cutting of what we are now recognizing, and the Republicans are recognizing, of something that should not be cut,” she said.
Funding for air traffic controllers is important, but so are other programs being cut such as Head Start, defense, biomedical research, and more, she said.
FAA officials said more than 3,000 flights were delayed this week because of employee furloughs. Nearly 5,000 other delays were caused by weather and other factors.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is Washington bureau chief for the Post-Gazette. This report includes information from the Associated Press. Contact Tracie Mauriello at: firstname.lastname@example.org 1-703-996-9292.