The Air Force came to the rescue of several U.S. representatives yesterday, just as it did Sunday when it flew a batch of senators into Washington to cast their votes on the administration's tax-cut bill.
And, votes having been cast, the Air Force is obliging the lawmakers with a ride home for their five-week recess. Monday afternoon seven Air Force planes flew 20 senators back to their districts, and more were being scheduled to return the representatives to their homes after yesterday's vote.
The Air Force is authorized by law to assist Congress with carrying out its business in "abnormal situations," such as the air traffic controllers' strike, and a Defense Department spokesman.
Ben Welles, a Pentagon spokesman, said the decision to use military transports to fly stranded lawmakers to Washington was made "in consultation with the White House, with White House approval," but he declined to say whether the White House had initiated the flights.
About 10 senators were flown in Sunday, and several members of Congress were being flown in yesterday, most of them in T39s, small executive jets, said an Air Force spokesman.
Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) hitched a ride Sunday on Air Force Two with Vice President Bush, who happened to be in Maine for the weekend, according to Cohen's press aide.
At a White House request, Pentagon lawyers also checked the possibility of using military planes to fly home some of the 32,000 Boy Scouts from their quadrennial jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill near Fredericksburg, Va., provided the government was reimbursed.
The lawyers decided that such action would put the Defense Department in "direct competition" with the airlines, and would therefore be illegal.
The jamboree closed yesterday amid federal assurances that flights home for about 6,500 scouts would receive "priority clearnace" despite the strike.
The transportation Department Federal Aviation Administration and White House assisted the scouts with travel plans.
Meanwhile, 370 Air Force, Army and Navy air traffic controllers were standing by yesterday afternoon to back up civilian controllers at airports in 13 cities. The military controllers were not yet needed, said a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.
Although some training flights were curtailed, there have been "no significant problems created for the military" by the strike, an Air Force operations officer said yesterday.