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Obama administration warns of grim consequences when cuts kick in

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Just in case those consequences didn't capture the public's attention, the White House also had Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spell out the impact on travelers: a frequent-flier nightmare of 90-minute airport waits, limited flights and closed regional airports. Republican lawmakers dismissed LaHood's warnings as "exaggerations."

But LaHood said the cuts would require slicing more than $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, resulting in furloughs of one day per pay period for a majority of the agency's 47,000 employees.

"Once airlines see the potential impact of these furloughs, we expect that they will change their schedules and cancel flights," LaHood said.

Moreover, he said, the Transportation Department is looking "to likely close" air traffic control towers at 100 airports that have fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year.

"We're talking about places like Boca Raton, Fla.; Joplin, Mo.; Hilton Head, S.C.; and San Marcos, Texas," he said. All in all, nearly two-thirds of the airports are concentrated in three states — California, Florida and Texas.

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