Mr. Toomey mocked the proposal.
"Let me give an analogy. I can come down to the Senate floor and suggest I think it should be the policy of the United States that we absolutely not invade Canada and we not have a war with Canada. Imagine the money we would save if we don't go to war with Canada, so with all those savings let's go out and spend it because we've got this terrific savings," he said in a floor speech. Mr. Durbin's proposal "is absolutely no more meaningful than if I were to make that suggestion."
Mr. Durbin said Republicans characterized that fund differently when Sen. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., proposed tapping that fund in his budget proposal last year.
Democrats including Mr. Durbin and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have resisted a piecemeal approach to the sequester, preferring to address the cuts together, but support for that view has eroded in recent days as airlines reported thousands of flight delays and industry executives pressed for a restoration of full funding for air traffic controllers.
"I think it's better to do a big deal, but as we work toward that big deal we have to admit that there are some things that are very problematic," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who helped write legislation to give the FAA flexibility to switch money between accounts and permit full staffing by controllers.
At least three other Democrats support the measure, which Ms. Klobuchar co-sponsored with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and several other GOP lawmakers.
"This is a very simple bipartisan bill that fixes the problem," Mr. Hoeven said, adding he had informed the White House of his plans.
It was not clear whether supporters of the legislation or of similar proposals would seek a vote before Congress begins a one-week vacation at the end of the week.
Nor was it clear whether any FAA-related measure might include a provision to keep open smaller towers that the agency says might be closed as a result of the spending cuts, a provision that numerous lawmakers in both parties favor.
Democrats said it was unlikely any FAA bill would be expanded to offset the impact of the cuts on Head Start or other programs that draw more support from Democrats than Republicans.
Apart from the inconvenience caused by delays, some lawmakers have criticized FAA administrator Michael Huerta, saying they were blindsided by the flight delays. Republicans have been particularly vocal.
Mr. Huerta got a public tongue-lashing during the day when he appeared before the House Appropriations Committee.
"You didn't forewarn us this was coming. You didn't advise us how to handle it. This imperial attitude on the part of this administration -- you are the latest example of it -- is disgusting," Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said.
Mr. Huerta said Transportation Secretary Ray 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 earlier over the winter.
"It's fair to say the thing that captured the media's attention was the" threatened closure of small towers, he added. "The furlough problem didn't sink in with Congress and the public until recently."
The Associated Press contributed.
(c)2013 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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