DOT chief ‘optimistic’ sequestration will be avoided

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper

After raising the specter of sequestration causing delays at U.S. airports, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday that he was “optimistic” Congress would avoid the automatic budget cuts that are set to take effect Friday.

LaHood has said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would have to furlough air traffic controllers if it has to cut $600 million from its budget due to sequestration.

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, LaHood reiterated the possibility of budget cut-induced flight delays. But he also said he was confident Congress would heed the warning and put a stop to the across-the-board budget cuts that were agreed to by lawmakers in 2011.

“I’m optimistic about this,” LaHood, who has announced that he is retiring as Transportation secretary soon, said on the show.

“I just think there’s an awful lot of shared pain that’s going to take place starting on March 1 if this sequester goes in,” LaHood continued. “And I don’t think anybody really wants that to happen.”

Since he appeared at the White House press briefing on Friday, LaHood has faced charges that he and other Obama administration are using “scare tactics” to alarm U.S. citizens about the automatic sequestration budget cuts, which total about $85 billion.

The Obama administration has said the FAA would have to furlough its approximately 47,000 employees at least one day every pay period.

Travel industry groups have warned that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) could also have to cut its workforce, creating long lines at airport security checkpoints.

LaHood said Monday that the Obama administration was just issuing warnings to the American public, not trying to scare them.

“We’re not using scare tactics,” LaHood said. “What we’re doing is sending up warning flares to people that these cuts have consequences, and here’s what the consequences are. And that’s what we’ve put out, not to scare people, but just as a warning that there are consequences.”

LaHood, who was a Republican member of Congress, put the onus on his party for reaching a deal to avoid the sequestration.

“The president has a plan,” he said. “It cuts well over $86 billion. Republicans should take a look at it, move towards it. If they don’t like it, let’s sit down and talk about it.

“There’s still time,” he continued. “We have a week now. All these members of Congress are coming back from their districts, and they have a chance this week to meet halfway and work this out, the way they did with the financial cliff, by the way.”

Lawmakers pushed back the implementation date of sequestration from Jan. 1 to March 1 in a budget deal at the beginning of the year.


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