In less than 24 hours, bipartisan legislation passed both the Senate and the House to relieve one of the most noticeable downsides to budget sequestration: FAA furloughs.
The bill that was rushed through Congress - so quickly that the version the Senate voted on had an ending paragraph handwritten in - and is expected to be signed by the president today gives the FAA transfer authority for $253 million until October to put towards meeting the staffing challenges that have created staggering airport delays this week.
The money comes from the leftovers of a fund for airport improvements that is expected to send back between $400 and $450 million in unused funds this year.
The bill garnered praise from the air traffic controllers’ union.
“After just one week of furloughs, it is abundantly clear that a fully staffed air traffic control workforce is necessary for our national airspace system to operate at full capacity,” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement Friday. “We applaud the bipartisan nature of the votes and look forward to working closely with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the newly granted flexibility is exercised in a way that maintains our national airspace system’s status as the safest and most efficient in the world.”
This is not the first time Congress has put in place legislation to ease some of the pain of sequester cuts.
Congress at the end of March gave the Defense Department the flexibility to delay furloughs of civilian workers. It also took care of one of the most lamented defense sequester cuts – the tuition assistance program for active duty troops – by ordering all branches to restore their programs.
But some in Congress oppose the piece-by-piece method of picking off sequestration’s controls. Rep. Chris Van Hollen was among 29 House Democrats who voted against the bill. He said members of Congress should stay in D.C. this week and form a plan “to replace the entire sequester.”
“It makes no sense to deal with this you know one manufactured emergency at a time,” Van Hollen, D-Md., told ABC News. “We need to get at the underlying issue, replace the sequester. Otherwise, we’re going to have to be dealing with another issue next week. So let’s take the time. Get the job done.”
The only airports showing sequestration-linked delays on Friday afternoon were JFK and La Guardia Airport.
ABC’s Jeff Zeleny, Sunlen Miller and John Parkinson contributed to this report.