WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Tuesday that furloughs of air traffic controllers, which are reportedly causing delays at airports across the country, ought to be postponed in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Due to sequestration, the administration is set to close a number of air traffic control towers in June. On Sunday night, furloughs for a number of air traffic controllers took effect, leading to fewer controllers and lengthened delays at airports Sunday night and through Monday.
“At a time when there’s heightened security or concern about security around the country, in the wake of some of the recent developments in this country, the additional crowds, potential confusion at airports certainly ought to be avoided,” Blumenthal said at a press conference with Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, with whom he is co-sponsoring a bill to prohibit the closing of air traffic control towers.
“I believe the administration ought to postpone these furloughs at least for 30 days to give the congress an opportunity to act – as a member of the Commerce Committee, I think that our authority certainly would permit a more flexible and effective response to sequestration requirements,” he explained.
Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week that the control towers had to be closed because “we don’t have the money to keep them open.”
But Moran, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, suggested that there were political motives afoot.
“It certainly has led to speculation by many, Republicans and Democrats, that there is an effort afoot to try to demonstrate that the sequestration is something that is so painful that it cannot be accomplished without causing dramatic consequences,” he said.
After the press conference, he was more blunt, saying the administration was using air travelers as “guinea pigs” and putting “politics ahead of safety.”
“That was better than you got in there,” Moran acknowledged, “but I didn’t want to — Richard is a great colleague.”
The Protect Our Skies Act that Blumenthal and Moran are introducing has wide bipartisan support. The Senate bill already has 18 Democratic co-sponsors and 15 Republican co-sponsors.
Moran said he got a personal taste of the delays caused by the furloughs on Sunday, when he flew from Kansas City to New York.
“On two occasions, the plane had to circle, awaiting a time of arrival at LaGuardia … I don’t want to personalize this, there were many people who were much more inconvenienced than me, and I don’t look at this as a personal thing. I just, I think what we saw over the weekend is a symbol of something that’s not necessary,” he told The Daily Caller.