Travellers could face delays at major US
airports if mandatory government spending cuts take effect next week,
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday.
His comments came as the White House pressures Congress to replace the cuts with less severe deficit reduction measures.
President Barack Obama has warned that the cuts due to take effect on March 1 would have dire effects on the US economy.
LaHood's warnings were meant to "wake up members of Congress on the Republican side so they come to the table and we don't have this calamity on air travel," he said.
The Obama administration has pointed to the impact of the cuts on everything from military readiness to early childhood education.
Air traffic controllers would be forced to take unpaid leave, reducing capacity for planes to take off at major airports, LaHood said.
This would cause delays of up to 90 minutes for takeoffs beginning in April, LaHood said. Air control towers would also face closure at smaller airports, he said.
The so-called sequester, a package of automatic budget cuts passed in August 2011, was intended to pressure lawmakers to forge 10-year deficit reductions worth 1.2 trillion dollars.
The across-the-board cuts were initially scheduled to go into effect on January 1, but were shelved for two months as part of a deal that included tax hikes on the wealthy.
The White House has sought further delays to win more time to come to a broader deficit reduction deal.
Some Republicans have indicated that, despite their concerns about large defence cuts, they were open to allowing them to reduce what they see as other wasteful spending.
Speaker John Boehner, who leads the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, this week called the sequester "bad policy" and accused Obama of not being serious about finding other cuts to replace it and instead focussing on tax hikes.
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