News / USA

Rush to Help Airlines, Travelers Could Crack Open US Budget Door

Passengers with their baggage move through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California, April 24, 2013.
Passengers with their baggage move through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California, April 24, 2013.
Reuters
Congress got rid of a headache on Friday when it rescued the flying public from flight delays caused by its budget cutting. But in the view of many U.S. lawmakers, the pain is just about to begin.

Members of Congress and groups representing people hit by across-the-board budget cuts, ranging from cancer patients to welfare recipients, say the quick action on air traffic control staffing underscored the importance of being visible to millions of Americans.

"What are we going to do, every time there's a fire we're going to put it out by moving some funds around? That's a shell game," said Representative Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from northern Virginia.

"I'm going to predict that there's going to be more weeping and gnashing of teeth, as sequestration sets in and we're going to continue to approach this on a piecemeal basis," he said.

Next in line for individual funding relief will be advocates for national parks, low-income housing, AIDS funding, meals on wheels and Community Development Block Grants, Connolly said, adding that budget cuts for these and other safety-net services will be felt severely by local communities.

Representatives for some of these other programs said it was the television images of lines in airports and the interviews with angry passengers that led to action, combined with the lobbying power of the travel industry.

"It means we worry about who's going to scream the loudest now," said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which has been lobbying against cuts in federal funding of medical research.

A heavy dose of lobbying from the airline and travel industry preceded the legislation enacted Friday, which permitted the Federal Aviation Administration to move money to avoid the furloughs of air traffic controllers that were causing the delays.

Sequestration - the $109 billion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts enacted by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama - formally took effect in March and barring Congressional action to replace it may continue for a decade.

Some programs won relief from Congress in March, notably the meat and poultry industry, which fought successfully to prevent furloughs of U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspectors.

But because the furloughs in other programs, such as the FAA, were not immediately implemented, the impact was slow to build.

Travel lobby

   
The travel industry began to accelerate its lobbying effort after it learned early last week from the FAA that as many as 6,700 flights per day could be delayed, potentially reducing capacity at major airports by 30 to 40 percent.

Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, or A4A, the main airlines industry group, worked the phones throughout the week, said Jean Medina, senior vice president for communications at A4A.

"He certainly was in very close contact with a lot of people to make sure they understood what needed to happen," she said.

Its first course of action was to ask the administration for a 30-day delay.

When that was denied, the industry group began focusing on a legislative fix that would clear both houses with bipartisan support and be signed into law by Obama.

US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker, who would head the world's largest airline if his carrier's merger with AMR Corp's American Airlines is approved, said he spent the past week making calls to government officials in his airline's hub markets to express concern about the furloughs.

"What I know is we're doing great disservice to the flying public and to the citizens of the United States and we need for this to get resolved," Parker told Reuters from Arizona earlier this week.

The non-profit U.S. Travel Association said it mounted its own "sequester offensive" in response to the furloughs and began a consumer texting campaign that connected travelers who had been delayed at airports to members of Congress.

The association also asked industry workers to contact their representatives in Congress to explain that the travel delays put their jobs at risk.

"We were in frequent contact with Congress urging them to solve this problem as soon as possible," Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy at the U.S. Travel Association, said on Friday.  "We were able to generate hundreds of calls and emails to Congress and we're hoping that helped to move the ball forward," Hansen said.

Visibility

Airlines for America reported about $6.3 million in lobbying expenses in 2012 according to the Center for Responsive Politics; the U.S. Travel Association spent about $1.7 million; US Airways and Delta about $2.8 million each.

While other interest groups have a lobbying presence in the national capital, they are hard pressed to match the visibility of air travel.

Compared to "longer lines at airports," said Cynthia Pellegrini, a vice president at the March of Dimes, which raises funds to improve the health of mothers and babies, "you can't see that a child's belly is emptier because her family couldn't get food assistance."

"We are not as well-heeled as the travel industry," said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of social welfare organizations. "But I think as more people learn of this appalling choice,'' that Congress made on Friday, ``they will get as mad as I am."

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, home to a major Delta Air Lines hub in Minneapolis, was among the members backing an FAA budget fix on Thursday when the Senate passed it.

She called it a "practical, pragmatic answer to an immediate problem," but acknowledged that it does nothing to get Congress closer to fixing the problems caused by sequestration. More effects of the cuts, demonstrated dramatically to the public, could do that, she added.

She may not have long to wait. Organizations that have been more quietly protesting the budget cuts were rethinking their strategy on Friday in the wake of Congress' action.

"It is inexplicable why proven and effective Meals on Wheels programs get overlooked from exemption from the sequester when both the business and social case exists,'' said Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels Association of America.

"I guess that's because we need to be a different kind of squeaky wheel.''

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs