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John McCain: focus on flight delays shows 'upside down' sequester concerns

Sen. John McCain, speaking at a Monitor breakfast Thursday, said it is 'criminal and scandalous' that Congress is ignoring the effect of the 'sequester' on national defense.

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Senator John McCain speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

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Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona says it is “criminal and scandalous” that Congress is ignoring the effect of budget cuts on national defense, while actively hunting for a way to offset spending cuts at the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We’ve got our priorities upside down,” Senator McCain said Thursday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters. “If we are going to take care of airline passengers, why don’t we take care of our national security? The world is a more dangerous place than I have seen ... in many respects.”

The "sequester" – the across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last month – has posed budget dilemmas for the Pentagon and other government agencies providing national security, and it has also meant delays at airports. Starting this week, the FAA has furloughed some control-tower staff, resulting in widespread flight postponements.

“I am terribly uncomfortable with the delays of FAA. I think it is a terrible thing. I have been subject to it myself,” Arizona senator said. But McCain, a decorated war hero and longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said, “Every one of our uniformed service chiefs have said they can’t defend the nation if we continue with this sequester.”  

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, vice chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, was also a guest at the breakfast. When asked what action should be taken regarding the FAA delays, he said, “My best solution is to undo sequester and replace it with more rational types of cuts.”  

He noted, “Last night Jay Carney, the president’s spokesperson, said that he would be open to a solution just for FAA.” The White House and top Democrats had been holding out for a comprehensive solution to the sequester as opposed to piecemeal relief.

At Wednesday’s White House briefing, Mr. Carney said that if Congress “wants to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA, we would be open to looking at that.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; and the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, met Wednesday with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, seeking a solution. “I would certainly be open” to any proposal they develop, Senator Schumer said.

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McCain said, “I will go along with whatever the FAA thing is, but it is criminal and scandalous that we are ignoring the effect of sequestration on our national security."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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