Blame shifting was in high gear Tuesday on Capitol Hill and at the White House as the first air traffic delays tied to the furloughs of Federal Aviation Administration controllers began to get attention.
The Republicans' message: Delays at some airports this week — a result of automatic spending cuts known as the sequester that took effect in March, but whose resulting furloughs are just kicking in — was a "manufactured crisis," and that the administration wants voters angry enough to force Congress to give President Obama the higher taxes he seeks.
Senate Republicans pointed to congressional testimony by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta last week.
"We specifically asked him about furloughs. We discussed the impact of sequestration. Not once did he talk about the impact on the traveling public," said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. "Just a few hours after our hearing ended, he then went public saying this would be a disaster because of the furloughing of the traffic controllers, an issue that I specifically raised with him at the hearing."
Collins and other Republican senators said the FAA could repurpose money appropriated to the agency for other programs to controller pay, thus avoiding the furloughs.
"We've all taken a look at this and ... we think that's there flexibility within the law to deal with this," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and Senate minority leader.
But in some instances, shifting money around under the sequester would require congressional approval, never a sure thing these days with partisan trench warfare on Capitol Hill.
The FAA hadn't issued a response to Collins' charges at the time of this writing. But White House press secretary Jay Carney had plenty to say:
"This is a result of the sequester being implemented. We made it clear that there would be these kinds of negative effects if Congress failed to take reasonable action to avert the sequester, a policy that everyone who was involved in writing it knew at the time and has made clear ever since was never designed to be implemented. It was designed to be bad policy and therefore to be avoided.
"The fact is Congress had an opportunity, but Republicans made a choice. And this is a result of a choice they made to embrace the sequester as — and I'm quoting Republicans — a victory for the Tea Party and a home run."
When sequestration began in March, it affected programs like Head Start, but its impacts weren't immediately and widely noticeable to anyone not relying on such services. Some Republicans had accused the Obama administration of crying wolf.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he planned to start moving legislation Tuesday that would authorize using money designated for "overseas contingency" operations to put sequestration on hold for several months and give Congress yet another chance to achieve a less draconian form of budget cutting.
It was an approach unlikely to gain the approval of Republicans.