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Originally published April 24, 2013 at 8:54 PM | Page modified April 25, 2013 at 5:49 AM

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Congress may cancel FAA furloughs due to airline delays

The Associated Press

The day in D.C.

Birmingham bombing: The House voted Wednesday to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the four girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., a seminal moment in the civil-rights movement. Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, were killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in a bombing that injured 22 other churchgoers. The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the nation’s highest civilian honors and is awarded annually by Congress. The Senate and President Obama are expected to approve the measure.

Health-care vote: An effort by House Republicans to highlight problems with President Obama’s health-care law by bailing out a program for people with pre-existing medical conditions appeared to backfire. GOP leaders postponed a scheduled vote after the measure met strong opposition from two directions: from conservative groups resistant to any federal role in health care and from Democrats who objected that the Republicans planned to pay for the high-risk patient program by raiding a disease-prevention provision the administration says is essential to the overhaul.

The legislation also faced a White House veto threat.

Vote delay: Senate Democrats delayed a confirmation vote on Labor Secretary-nominee Thomas Perez after Republicans threatened to use a separate hearing to criticize his handling of a whistle-blower case. The vote in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that had been set for Thursday has been pushed back to May 8.

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration signaled Wednesday it might accept legislation eliminating Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs blamed for lengthy delays affecting airline passengers, while leaving the rest of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in place.

The disclosure came as sentiment grew among Senate Democrats and Republicans for legislation to ease the impact of the cuts on the FAA, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held talks with key senators.

“I think there was a meeting of the minds” on steps to remedy the situation, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said after the meeting. He said he hoped for a resolution before the Senate begins a scheduled weeklong vacation at week’s end.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which is privy to FAA data, there were 5,800 flight delays across the country for the three days beginning Sunday, when the furloughs took effect. Some were caused by weather. The union said that compares with 2,500 delays for the same period a year ago.

At the White House, press secretary Jay 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.”

Officials estimate the FAA furloughs will save slightly more than $200 million through Sept. 30, a small fraction of the $85 billion in overall reductions that stem from across-the-board cuts, officially known as a sequester, that took effect in March.

Neither Rockefeller nor LaHood disclosed the terms of possible legislation.

Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, was joined at the meeting by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the panel’s senior Republican, as well as LaHood and Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator.

Some lawmakers have criticized Huerta, saying they were blindsided by the flight delays. Huerta got a public tongue-lashing Wednesday, when he appeared before the House Appropriations Committee. “You didn’t forewarn us this was coming. You didn’t ask advice about how we should handle it. This imperial attitude on the part of this administration ... is disgusting,” Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said.

Huerta said LaHood had warned at a news conference in February that the furloughs were coming and could create flight delays of up to 90 minutes. He also said he had testified about them at a hearing before a different committee over the winter.

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