In a major victory for Colorado and the nation's air travelers, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan deal led by Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), along with Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), to provide the Secretary of Transportation the flexibility to avoid further furloughs of essential employees at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
"Automatic budget cuts known as sequestration have left many of our businesses and travelers languishing in long lines at our nation's airports. This is an unacceptable and avoidable drag on our resurgent economy. That's why I am proud to stand with Senators Collins, Rockefeller and Thune to announce a bipartisan solution to unchain our airports and restore common sense to the FAA," Udall said. "We need to reduce the federal budget deficit and cut federal spending, but we should not allow the blunt cuts of sequestration to cripple travel, tourism, business and commerce -- all critical parts of our ongoing economic recovery. This deal is good news for Colorado, the West and our nation."
The Reducing Flight Delays Act gives the U.S. Secretary of Transportation the flexibility to transfer discretionary funds into the FAA's operations budget to prevent essential employees, such as air traffic controllers, from being furloughed. Additionally, the Secretary must notify the Senate and House Appropriations committees of any proposal to use this reprogramming authority, providing for congressional oversight -- as Udall and Collins proposed more broadly earlier this year. The broader Udall-Collins plan, which Udall is still fighting for Congress to pass, will give the executive branch more flexibility in implementing the automatic sequester cuts with appropriate congressional oversight.
Under the bipartisan deal to confront the ongoing airport delays, the budget cuts mandated by the sequester would still be achieved, but the FAA would obtain cost savings from other parts of the agency. This would help reduce flight delays while maintaining a safe and efficient national airspace system.
"The challenges the FAA faces this fiscal year are daunting; not only is the agency operating under a continuing resolution but sequestration compounds the problem. It's unfortunate that these irresponsible cuts led to widespread delays to the air transportation system," said Collins, who is Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. "I met with Transportation Secretary LaHood and FAA Administrator Heurta this morning to discuss a possible solution. I am pleased to announce our bipartisan agreement to restore funding for essential programs at the FAA and avoid the unnecessary furloughs of air traffic controllers. This agreement will help avoid onerous delays for the traveling public and keep people working."
Udall has led efforts in Congress to give the armed forces and the rest of the executive branch the flexibility to strategically implement the automatic, indiscriminate budget cuts commonly called sequestration.
Adoption of the Udall-Collins plan earlier this year could have prevented many of the problems being reported, including the FAA furlough issue. The bipartisan legislation introduced today provides more narrow flexibility in response to an urgent problem.