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Obama quietly signs bill easing air travel delays

U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured as first lady Michelle Obama (not pictured) speaks during an event on finding employment for militar
U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured as first lady Michelle Obama (not pictured) speaks during an event on finding employment for militar

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Without comment or fanfare, President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed legislation sparing U.S. air travel from the effects of across-the-board spending cuts that had caused delays and stirred public ire.

Cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration under the budget-cutting process known as sequestration began holding up air travel across the country last week, infuriating travelers and airline staff.

Congress quickly passed legislation allowing the agency to shift money within its budget to halt furloughs of air-traffic controllers that began April 21. Air traffic returned to normal on Sunday.

Obama has chided Republicans for approving a plan to ease air travel delays while leaving untouched budget cuts that affect children and the elderly. Some of Obama's supporters have criticized him for signing the bill.

The spending cuts were intended to be so painful that the president and congressional Republicans alike would be motivated to strike a deficit reduction deal to reverse them.

But that didn't happen, despite the administration's warnings that the reductions would cause discomfort in many spheres of activity, including air travel. Congressional Republicans have been in no rush to reverse the cuts and some have embraced them as long-overdue belt-tightening.

Obama said at a news conference this week that he felt unable to block the changes to FAA funding because such a move would not have helped his goal of a broad deficit reduction deal that includes tax increases, and because Republicans would have blamed him for the disruptions.

"Frankly, I don't think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix," he said.

"The only way the problem does get fixed is if both parties sit down and they say, how are we going to make sure that we're reducing our deficit sensibly," he added.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Jim Loney)

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