WASHINGTON -- Democratic leaders say they will bring an aviation bill that includes $8 billion for airport construction to the Senate floor this week, pitching it as a jobs measure.
The bill -- introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., last week -- is identical to a bill that passed the Senate last spring on a 93 to 0 vote. That bill later stalled when Congress couldn't reach agreement on several side issues, including distribution of landing slots at Reagan National Airport near Washington, the fee airline passengers pay to support airport improvements and a labor dispute between delivery giants FedEx and United Parcel Service.
This time Democrats are predicting a smoother flight for the measure. On Monday, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democratic leaders will release an estimate by the American Association of Airport Executives that says the airport construction funds will support the employment of 90,000 workers and affect another 190,000 jobs.
The estimate is based on a calculation that $1 billion in federal spending supports 35,000 jobs. However, Transportation Department economists have previously said similar calculations for highway spending assume that state and local governments will match federal spending by 25 percent, or $250 million.
Democrats were also careful in a statement provided to The Associated Press to use the term "support" rather than "create" when referring to the jobs, since it's not clear how many of jobs would be new.
Nevertheless, the aviation bill presents Democrats with a means to show quick results in answer to President Barack Obama's call in his State of the Union speech to boost the economy through building and modernizing road, bridges, trains and other transportation infrastructure.
"This measure will give a green light to overdue improvement projects at airports across the country," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in the statement. "These projects will make air travel safer and more efficient while also putting hundreds of thousands of Americans to work."
The principal purpose of the bill is to provide authority for Federal Aviation Administration programs for the next two years, including an acceleration of the modernization of the nation's aging air traffic control system.
The last law providing long-term authority for FAA programs expired in 2007. Congress has since kept FAA programs going through a series of 17 short-term extensions.
In the House, Republicans have also signaled they intend to fast-track an FAA bill. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said the bill will be his first priority.
It's still unclear what a House bill might look like, although Republicans will be looking for ways to cut spending as they seek to make good on campaign promises to shrink the federal government.
FAA operations cost more than $14 billion annually. The agency also plans to spend about $20 billion over the next decade to transform the air traffic network from one relying on radar to a satellite-based system designed to handle more planes more efficiently.