“If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100 city cross country tour?” Coburn wrote.
A White House official said the tour mostly involves federal officials in regional offices meeting with municipal leaders, with Washington-based staff traveling only infrequently.
LaHood disagreed with suggestions that the airport warnings amounted to scare tactics. He said the vast majority of the FAA’s 47,000 employees would probably be furloughed one day in each two-week pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September.
More than 100 air traffic control towers could be closed, including two in Virginia — Manassas and Lynchburg regional airports — and five in Maryland, including Frederick Municipal Airport.
Also on the list: Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville — home of Rep. Paul Ryan (R), chairman of the House Budget Committee and a champion of spending cuts. Overnight shifts at more than 60 towers across the country could also be eliminated.
“If we can’t get on the plane within 30, 40, 50 minutes after going through, you know what happens?” LaHood said. “They start calling their member of Congress.”
Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, said the threat of long security lines and flight delays could make travel “the face” of the sequester cuts.
The association has launched a mobile messaging campaign, urging travelers to text the word “DELAYED” to 877-877. In response, they will be connected with their local member of Congress.
“There is absolutely no excuse for travelers in one of the world’s most advanced nations to suffer through a travel process that wastes their precious time and resources,” Dow said.
At the White House, Democratic governors who met with Obama ahead of this weekend’s National Governors Association conference decried the impact of the sequester on their states, saying federal funding cuts will affect the National Guard, firefighters, police and teachers.
“This is another kick in the teeth by Republicans to the middle class of America,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D).
Travelers will also probably face delays getting through airport security, officials said. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
has said the cuts would force the Transportation Security Administration to initiate a hiring freeze for all transportation security officer positions in March, eliminate overtime and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days.
“Sequester will cripple air transportation, causing ripple effects across the economy and costing us jobs we can’t afford to lose,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). “These are real impacts in real communities with real consequences.”
Airlines are preparing for possible disruptions in their schedules. Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation’s leading airlines, said it will meet with the FAA and member airlines to plan for potential cutbacks.
Though LaHood said he hoped his roots in the GOP would help persuade the two parties to reach a compromise, much of Washington appeared to be bracing for the worst.
Asked if he still thought there was time to reach a deal, Obama replied, “Hope springs eternal.”
Luz Lazo contributed to this report.
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