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Transportation chief defends sounding alarm on cuts

With broad automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to go into effect in just five days, the nation's transportation chief on Sunday defended his warnings about the consequences of the cutbacks but promised that it will remain safe for Americans to fly. 

"We're not making this up in order to put pain on the American people," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We are required to cut a billion dollars and we are going to do that unless Congress gets together and works together and compromises on this." 

LaHood, a former Republican congressman, warned earlier this week that the scheduled cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration would result in flight delays due to closed air traffic control towers and furloughed transportation employees.

On Sunday, he emphasized that those cuts would mean major disruptions for passengers -- but not danger. 

"We will never compromise on safety," he said.  "People are going to be safe flying." 

Many in the GOP have suggested that the Obama administration is exaggerating the impact of the across-the-board cuts, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

"My advice to the president is to stop the campaigning," Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said on NBC. "Stop sending out your cabinet secretaries to scare the American people." 

LaHood said Sunday that the warnings are not overblown and argued that Republicans have failed to respond to the president's entreaties for compromise to avert the sequester. 

The former GOP lawmaker's harsh words for his own party were met with a fresh round of skepticism Sunday.

"Shame on Ray LaHood," Arizona Sen. John McCain declared on CNN's "State of the Union."

Pointing to reporting by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, McCain disputed the notion that the GOP is responsible for the looming cuts originally devised as a bargaining tactic in budget negotiaitons. 

"It came from the White House and the president's aides," McCain said.