WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is warning that automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 will result in travel delays at major airports and require traffic-disrupting shutdowns of air traffic control towers at smaller facilities.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the across the board reductions will require trimming $600 million this year form the Federal Aviation Administration. LaHood says that will mean furloughing air traffic controllers, which in turn will reduce the ability to guide planes in and out of airports.
He says travelers could experience 90 minute delays or more in major cities.
The transportation reductions are part of broader, cuts that will hit across government agencies that will begin to kick in at the end of next week.
LaHood's appearance in the White House briefing room was part of a continuing campaign by Cabinet members and other administration officials aimed at buttressing President Barack Obama's appeal to Congress to replace the cuts with tax increases and targeted reductions. Congressional Republicans oppose any additional tax increases.
Asked whether it appeared inevitable that the cuts would materialize, press secretary Jay Carney said: "We obviously are discouraged by the line that Republican leaders have taken, which is the book is closed on revenue. ... We remain hopeful and we will continue to engage with Congress."
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, denied that he was simply describing a worst-case scenario that would scare the public and put pressure on Republican lawmakers. He said the effect of the cuts will begin to be felt around the beginning of April.
"What I'm trying to do is wake up members of the Congress with the idea that they need to come to the table so we don't have to have this kind of calamity in air services in America," he said.
LaHood said the main reason the White House had asked him to appear before White House-based reporters was because he is a Republican making the case for Obama with Republican lawmakers.