Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood did something rare for a member of the president’s Cabinet on Friday, appearing at a White House media briefing to address reporters.
The topic, of course, was the automatic spending cuts that will take effect on March 1 if Congress fails to pass an alternative deficit-reduction package by then.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, was frank about the reason behind his appearance: “What I’m trying to do is wake up members of congress on the Republican side.”
The secretary’s remarks put him squarely on the side of his boss in the sequestration blame game, which has gained new life this week in the absence of a deal just days before the deadline.
“The president has put forward a solution to avoid these cuts,” LaHood said. “As a former member of Congress of 14 years, I urge my former colleagues to address this issue when they get back next Monday and to work on a long-term, balanced solution to our deficit challenges.”
LaHood also used his appearance to warn about impacts the sequester would have on “the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and to the nation’s economy.”
The secretary said the vast majority of the Federal Aviation Administration’s nearly 47,000 employees would be furloughed under sequestration for about one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year.
LaHood said the furloughs for air-traffic controllers and other FAA employees would ultimately lead to delays for travelers. “Safety is our top priority, and we will never allow the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land, which means travelers should expect delays,” he said.
LaHood added that the Transportation Department began talks with union leaders Friday about closing more than 100 air-traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year.
“We’re talking about places like Boca Raton, Florida; Joplin, Missouri; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and San Marcos, Texas,” he said.
The Transportation Department has posted a list of air-traffic control facilities that could close under sequestration.
LaHood said he has contacted former colleagues in Congress to urge them to make a deal with Democrats. He did not specify which lawmakers he has reached out to.
When asked what he has said during those discussions, LaHood responded: “I’m telling them to come to the table and start talking to Democrats about how we solve this. They’ll figure out the solution just like they figured out the solution on the fiscal cliff.”
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