Budget cuts to disrupt US air travel: transport chief

By Mark Felsenthal ,Reuters

WASHINGTON — The U.S. air travel system faces widespread disruptions if automatic government spending cuts go into effect next week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Friday, as the administration kept up a steady drum beat of pressure on congressional lawmakers to delay the cuts. LaHood painted a dismal picture of delayed and canceled flights, shuttered control towers and airports, and irate air travelers from coast to coast if across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to take place under the process known as sequestration.

“Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours,” LaHood told reporters at the White House. “Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country.” Some US$85 billion in cuts are due to be applied across government programs on March 1 unless lawmakers act. The cuts were designed to be so onerous they would force a compromise over a broader deficit reduction package, but this deal has proven elusive. President Barack Obama has waged an aggressive campaign to urge Congress to postpone the cuts for several months to let the White House and congressional Republicans hammer out a deficit-cutting deal. The president has given speeches around the country stressing the economic damage the sequestration cuts would cause if not blunted. Republicans, who have argued that government over-spending is hurting the U.S. economy, have so far rebuffed the president’s request for a delay. A number of Republican members of Congress have said that while the cuts may be painful, they could be a necessary jolt to wean the nation from excessive government spending. While Obama spoke by phone with congressional Republican leaders about the looming cuts on Thursday, there has been relatively little contact between the two sides as the deadline approaches.

Some critics have questioned whether the administration’s predictions of job losses and service hiccups in critical areas may be overstated and aimed at inflaming public opinion.