(Adds House vote, Hoyer comment)
By Doug Palmer and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, April 26 The U.S. House of
Representatives on Friday overwhelmingly approved a Senate plan
to ease nationwide air traffic delays caused by automatic
federal spending cuts, seeking to calm an irritated traveling
public as lawmakers themselves flew out of Washington for a
The Senate had unanimously voted for the plan late Thursday.
The barely four pages of legislation will give the
Department of Transportation flexibility to use unspent funds to
cover the costs of air traffic controllers and other essential
employees at the Federal Aviation Administration who had been
The bill, approved by the House in 361-41 vote, now moves to
President Barack Obama's desk for signature. White House
spokesman Jay Carney said Obama plans to sign the bill.
It is unclear how quickly the FAA can reverse the furloughs.
Lawmakers were eager to stem the growing wrath of the
traveling public, which had dealt with significant take-off and
landing delays since the furloughs started on Sunday. There were
many reports from passengers of pilots coming on the intercom to
explicitly blame the air traffic snarls on the automatic federal
spending cuts that went into effect last month.
Congress also faced angry comments from airline CEOs whose
companies had mounted a grassroots campaign by setting up a
website called dontgroundamerica.com, encouraging Americans to
send messages to Congress and the White House.
The quick legislative action marks a surprising bipartisan
effort, especially after many Republicans had accused the Obama
administration of manipulating funds to maximize the impact of
the automatic budget cuts and thus make Republicans look bad.
It does come with the risk, though, of unleashing furious
lobbying campaigns to ease other program cuts that were
triggered by the controversial "sequestration" that took effect
on March 1, requiring across-the-board spending cuts among most
federal agencies. The cuts aimed to trim a total of $85 billion
from federal spending through September of this year.
Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland gave an
impassioned speech on the House floor on Friday about the groups
not getting a break. He said children, the sick and the military
are not helped by this deal.
"Let's deal with all the adverse cuts, not just those that
affect the affluent traveling sector," Hoyer said.
While supporting the legislation, the White House on Friday
said it falls short of broader action needed to address
"It will be good news for America's traveling public if
Congress spares them these unnecessary delays," Carney said in a
Carney said lawmakers need to take additional steps to
alleviate the impact felt beyond the airline industry from the
cuts, such as among poorer elderly people, defense industry
workers and others brought on by sequestration.
"Ultimately, this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid that
fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by
the sequester's mindless across-the-board cuts," he said.
Sequestration took effect when congressional leaders and
Obama failed to come to an alternative budget deal that would
have turned off the crude budget cuts.
Transportation officials have made other cuts to their
budget but furloughs of air traffic controllers began this week,
prompting traveler backlash at major hubs such as Chicago, New
York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
On Friday morning, departing flights at Newark Liberty
International Airport were delayed more than an hour and 15
minutes, and Boston's Logan Airport had departure delays of more
than 30 minutes, both due to staffing, the FAA said. Teterboro
airport in New Jersey, which handles many corporate jets, also
was experiencing delays of more than 90 minutes due to staffing.
The U.S. Travel Association on Friday said it appreciated
Congress' swift action, especially ahead of the heavy summer
But the group said it was concerned that the Transportation
Department may divert funds from critical infrastructure
"At a time when we should be modernizing our infrastructure
to improve efficiency, capacity and U.S. global competitiveness,
sequestration-related issues should not be solved on the backs
of airports," the group said in a statement.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Doug Palmer, Susan Heavey, Karen
Jacobs and Alwyn Scott; Writing by Karey Van Hall; Editing by