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Deal to lift furloughs on airport workers may be near

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Politics,Congress,Transportation,Susan Ferrechio,Politics Digest,Fiscal Policy

The Senate late Thursday approved legislation that would ease the thousands of airport delays and cancellations inflicted by the so-called sequestration.

The bill, approved by unanimous consent, gives Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood "flexibility to transfer certain funds to prevent reduced operations and staffing of the Federal Aviation Administration."

Senate Democratic leaders spent hours behind closed doors Thursday and talking to White House officials about a law change that would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to stop furloughing air traffic controllers and other essential employees.

The House could take up the bill Friday, though a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told The Washington Examiner that it was a promise only to look at the legislation and nothing more.

Both the House and Senate are on recess next week.

The FAA is currently forcing employees, including its 13,000 air traffic controllers, to take a day off about once a week to help the agency comply with forced budget cuts of $630 million. The move has led to hours of delays and canceled trips for an increasingly frustrated flying public, as airports are forced to use runways more sparingly.

The FAA has also shuttered 149 control towers at smaller airports as a result of the sequester.

The Senate bill would give the FAA flexibility to move funds around so it can spare air traffic controllers from having to take unpaid leave.

Democrats were hesitant to pass any legislation that could reduce their political leverage on efforts to avoid the $85 billion in cuts required by the sequestration, replacing it with a plan that would offset the cuts with money left over from the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Most Republicans oppose that war savings plan because it would add to the deficit.

"Republicans have long said that the way to address these issues is through smarter cuts, not tax hikes or phony savings, Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "And that's what this legislation does."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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