Virginia Democrats Decry Potential Aviation Cuts

Sen. Timothy Kaine, D-Va. Sen. Timothy Kaine, D-Va. Matt Rourke/AP

Democrats from Virginia’s congressional delegation on Monday warned that across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration would have dire impacts on the health of the U.S air travel system.

During a press conference at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., Sen. Tim Kaine, Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran, and members of aviation industry groups reiterated that the spending cuts would result in widespread furloughs of federal employees, including Federal Aviation Administration workers.  They also repeated the warning that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued on Friday, emphasizing that the cuts would bring massive delays to passengers at many airports.

Moran -- whose district includes many federal workers -- stressed that furloughing government employees was “not a replacement for sound fiscal policy.” 

Federal workers already have given up “billions toward deficit reduction,” he told Government Executive. “Sequestration will not just impact federal employees, it will be felt at airports all over the country,” he said.

“It sends a message, and I think it’s a message that [it’s] going to have an adverse impact upon every American when their services are reduced, and their government is demoralized,” he added.

According to an FAA memo released on Friday, nearly $600 million in cuts would immediately take effect if lawmakers don’t reach a deal before March 1, making it likely that a vast majority of the agency’s 47,000 employees would be furloughed. Sequestration would be the direct result of “the unwillingness of some to compromise,” Connolly said.

“There are real consequences to this, and this is not an external problem,” he said.

Republican senators proposed a plan on Thursday to give the Obama administration more leeway in administering the cuts. But Connolly said it would be “highly ironic” if Congress gave the administration more flexibility, because it would mean that the legislature had given up on trying to find compromise. He said that undertaking sequestration would not be an easy task for the government, or the economy.

“The idea that this is belt tightening, and can be done painlessly, is false,” Connolly said.

Connolly also said that future investments toward the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System -- also known as NextGen -- would also be jeopardized, should the budget cuts go through. He told Government Executive that the government cannot keep pushing the upgrade of NextGen down the road.

“We have an absolute obligation to the traveling public to make that investment,” Connolly said.

Kaine also discussed the impact that sequestration would have on military infrastructure and investment in Virginia. He said that he had been on a “sequester tour” around the state, speaking to members of the military and defense contractors about the situation they face.  Though members of the military were exempted from the cuts, he said that civilians supporting the military -- such as nurses at rehabilitation facilities -- could face furloughs. He said that preventing sequestration should not be a difficult task for lawmakers.

“This is not conceptually hard to solve,” Kaine told Government Executive. “Everybody agrees the right solution is balanced.”

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