President Barack Obama has recently appeared with front-line workers to make the case that cuts will be disruptive to critical services. Republicans have called the predictions of dire services cuts so much hype.
About 71 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration budget covers salaries for controllers and safety inspectors. Furloughs could mean closed airport towers and flight delays, officials have said.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., ranking member of the committee that oversees the FAA, isn't convinced. "We take issue with the fact that this has to be an all-or-nothing proposition," he said.
Another advocate of smaller government, Chris Edwards, a budget expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, said, "I don't think there's any dispute about the furloughs."
His solution to diminished services? Let private companies or state and local governments provide them. "Let's untether these life-or-death services from the uncertainty of federal budgeting," he said.
The Transportation Security Administration, which must save about $398 million, could furlough 50,000 employees for as many as seven days and cut overtime, Director John Pistole said this week. The longer the cuts drag on, the longer the airport lines, he said.
The high-turnover agency also will not be able to backfill most jobs. Some officials have estimated that the equivalent of 7,200 of 45,000 jobs would disappear under the cuts. A third of the workforce are part-timers.
About 300 officers shepherd passengers through security lines at Pittsburgh International and five smaller airports nearby. Three 24-hour shifts start at 4 a.m. Pittsburgh has two checkpoints with 10 security lanes, and anywhere from 50 to 70 officers to staff them, according to union officials.
"We're running good if all 10 lanes are open," said Kimberly Kraynak-Lambert, president of the American Federation of Government Workers Local 332 in Pittsburgh.