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The Last Word
updated 2/21/2013 11:46:10 PM ET 2013-02-22T04:46:10

It's hard to believe that air travel could become any more unpleasant. But automatic spending cuts set to kick in next week could bring longer wait times at the airport.

You may find yourself with plenty of time to contemplate the sequester when you’re sitting in an airport listening to the announcements of air travel delays.

Out of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts set to go into effect after the March 1 deadline, the FAA’s budget would get slashed by $600 million. That would mean furloughs or forced unpaid leave for nearly all of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees, including air-traffic controllers. The TSA would also feel the pinch from these deep budgetary cuts: if the sequester kicks in, the federal agency plans on a hiring freeze and could furlough its 50,000 screeners for up to seven days, Politico reported.

In short, the sequestration cuts translate to fewer flights in the air and longer lines and wait times on the ground at airport security checkpoints.

Airport delays were a big concern at Thursday’s House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting on the impact of sequestration. Marion Blakey, former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Americans should expect “huge lines at security.”

“This affects every American: people traveling with their families as well as people traveling on business,” said Blakey. “Secretary Napolitano just the other day testified that reduced CPB funding would make a four- to five-hour wait at the international airports commonplace and even the average security wait time, another hour added.”

President Obama also warned of the direct impact of these automatic cuts on airport workers and travelers if Congress fails to act. “Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country,” said Obama on Tuesday.

A small sign of progress: on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president recently placed calls to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the sequester.

A new Pew/USA Today poll released on Thursday shows the majority of voters would pin the blame on congressional Republicans–not Obama–if the lawmakers fail to reach a new budget deal.

Video: Flight Frenzy: Why you should care about the sequester

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