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Obama chides lawmakers over flight delay fix, budget conflict

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Planned Parenthood National Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington April 26,
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Planned Parenthood National Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington April 26,

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama chided Republicans on Saturday for approving a plan to ease air-traffic delays caused by federal spending cuts while leaving budget cuts that affect children and the elderly untouched.

The Senate and the House of Representatives backed a plan this week to give the Department of Transportation flexibility to cover immediate salaries of air traffic controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration who had been furloughed as part of budget cuts known as the "sequester.

The furloughs, which started Sunday, led to take-off and landing delays at airports nationwide.

"This week, the sequester hurt travelers, who were stuck for hours in airports and on planes, and rightly frustrated by it. And, maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted these cuts take hold finally realized that they actually apply to them too," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"So Congress passed a temporary fix. A Band-Aid. But these cuts are scheduled to keep falling across other parts of the government that provide vital services for the American people," he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, however, said on Friday that Obama would sign the bill.

Republicans painted the bill as a response to poor governing on Obama's part.

"This week, many Americans had their flights delayed or canceled because of the way in which the Obama administration chose to implement the president's automatic sequestration cuts. Travelers were fed up, and rightly so," said Representative Bill Shuster in the weekly Republican address.

Shuster, the chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee in the House of Representatives, blamed the delays on shoddy implementation of the budget cuts that became effective early last month.

"There are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts, and to impose more tax hikes on the American people," he said.

"So rather than fix the problem immediately, the Obama administration spent days claiming its hands were tied, when just the opposite was true."

Though they disagree on the specifics, both Shuster and Obama said the sequester should be replaced with less arbitrary spending reductions.

In his address, broadcast on Saturday morning, Obama noted that the cuts were affecting social programs.

"There is only one way to truly fix the sequester: by replacing it before it causes further damage," Obama said, adding he hoped that members of Congress would feel the same sense of urgency they felt with the FAA cuts on other programs.

"They may not feel the pain felt by kids kicked off Head Start, or the 750,000 Americans projected to lose their jobs because of these cuts, or the long-term unemployed who will be further hurt by them. But that pain is real," he said.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Paul Simao)

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