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O’Hare, Midway travelers likely to feel the sting of sequestration

Travelers wait O'Hare last year. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Travelers wait at O'Hare last year. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 26, 2013 9:47AM



WASHINGTON — An impasse between President Barack Obama and Republicans — mainly in the House — continued Sunday, making it more likely automatic federal spending cuts will be triggered Friday, with the “sequester” potentially causing a massive migraine for travelers using O’Hare and Midway Airports.

I picked out the Chicago airports as a leading example of the local impact of Congress and the White House unable to forge a spending deal because so many people — no matter their income or politics — fly or have friends or family who do.

This contrived crisis seem familiar? We just went through this over New Year’s and in order to avoid the Dec. 31 “fiscal cliff” — also a manufactured deadline — Congress postponed the “sequester” until March 1.

There is an enormous amount of blame-gaming going on here, and Obama — with his popularity high — has been bashing congressional Republicans in general and the House leadership in particular for not wanting to compromise, figuring they have much more to lose.

Congress in 2011 went along with a White House suggestion to install the draconian, across-the-board domestic and defense spending cuts as a way to force each side to bargain, figuring that sane, rational elected officials would stop the sequester.

In hindsight, that’s a lot of LOL.

What’s at stake on the home front?

◆ Longer travel times at Midway and O’Hare, starting the first week of April.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday flights to Chicago and other big cities could experience delays of up to 90 minutes at peak hours.

I learned that the potential hit may be harder on O’Hare because one of its three runways could not be used if air traffic controllers have to be pulled from an auxiliary tower to keep the main tower staffed. With fewer controllers, there will be more time between takeoffs and landings. A midnight controller shift could also be eliminated at Midway.

Air travel at regional airports across Illinois could be curtailed or delayed with the furlough of controllers.

On top of that, add almost certain frustrating delays even getting to the gate with a smaller number of Transportation Security Administration personnel.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress on Feb. 14 that fewer TSA personnel means it could take more than one hour to get through security at major airports.

Napolitano said wait times to clear customs at O’Hare and other major international airports — already two hours at peak — could swell to more than four hours.

◆ At the Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, four demolition projects planned for this year — $2 million worth of business — would be canceled.

◆ Head Start programs in Illinois would be eliminated for 2,700 kids.

◆ Work-study programs for college students would take in 2,650 fewer in Illinois.

“What is true now is Republicans have decided they want the sequester to go into effect,” White House communications chief Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday, briefing reporters.

Retorted Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), “the White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it.”



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