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US Congress passes bill to ease flight delays

Landing and taxi runways are seen from the air traffic control tower at an airport in Maryland, on March 21, 2013
Landing and taxi runways are seen from the air traffic control tower at an airport in Maryland, on March 21, 2013. The US Senate passed quick-fix legislation to end the furloughs of air traffic control staff that have triggered thousands of flight delays

Faced with the sudden ire of thousands of Americans caught up in flight delays, Congress on Friday gave overwhelming approval to a bill that puts furloughed air traffic controllers back on the job.

In a lightning-quick vote, the House of Representatives approved the legislation 361-41, following a unanimous consent vote in the Senate the previous day. It now goes to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.

The bill, which follows days in which thousands of flights across the country were delayed, undoes one of the most high-profile effects of the so-called sequestration, the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1 and hit federal spending across the board.

The legislation provides the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with some $253 million through October "to prevent reduced operations and staffing" as a result of the arbitrary cuts, which came about when lawmakers failed to reach a broad budget deal this year.

The funds come from a shifting of existing resources, not from new tax revenues.

Some 13,000 controllers had been ordered to take two unpaid days off per month through the remainder of the fiscal year, but the employees will return to normal schedules as soon as Obama signs the bill into law.

"With this solution, Americans will no longer be burdened by President Obama's flight delays and our economy will not take an unnecessary hit," said House Speaker John Boehner, embracing the Republican strategy of tagging the delays -- and sequestration as a whole -- as a budget disaster of the White House's making.

"Just like we've done here in the House, the administration must learn how to do more with less. Sequestration is bad policy."

The White House described the FAA fix as "good news for America's traveling public," but warned of broader budget troubles looming.

"The problem is that this is just a Band-Aid solution," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, noting that the FAA funding is just half of one percent of the overall sequester.

Debate is still raging about what to do about the billions in cuts to education, infrastructure, poverty alleviation, and the military.

Republican Senator John McCain said he supports the FAA fix.

"However, it is shameful for us to make allowances for the FAA while doing nothing to stop the draconian cuts that are decimating our military today and putting our nation's security in danger."