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Democrats Push Aviation Bill As Jobs Program

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic leaders brought an aviation bill that authorizes $8 billion for airport construction to the Senate floor on Monday, pitching it as a jobs measure in keeping with President Barack Obama's call to boost the economy through transportation projects.

The American Association of Airport Executives estimated the airport construction funds will support 90,000 current or new jobs and have a beneficial spinoff effect on the employment of another 190,000 workers. The estimate is based on a calculation that $1 billion in federal spending supports 35,000 jobs. It presumes a 20 percent match by local airport authorities in addition to the federal dollars.

The bill presents Democrats with a means to show quick results in answer to Obama's call in his State of the Union speech to put Americans to work modernizing roads, bridges, trains and other transportation infrastructure.

"On the Senate floor this week we're going to pick up where the president left off in his speech," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters in a telephone media briefing with other Democratic leaders.

The measure is identical to a bill the Senate approved 93-0 last spring. It later stalled when Congress couldn't reach agreement on several side issues, including the 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, which has bipartisan support.

"We cannot let this bill be stymied as a result of relatively small issues," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. "If there was ever a jobs bill, this is it."

The bill's main purpose is providing authority for Federal Aviation Administration programs for the next two years, including an acceleration of the modernization of the nation's air traffic control system. The agency plans to spend about $20 billion over the next decade to transform the air traffic network from one relying on radar to a more efficient satellite-based 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 is unclear what a House bill might look like, although Republicans will be searching for ways to cut spending as they seek to make good on campaign promises. FAA operations cost more than $14 billion annually.

One target is likely to be the essential air service program, which subsidizes the cost of scheduled airline service to small airports, often in rural communities. The program has often been criticized for underwriting air service that serves relatively few people or in communities where there is access to other airports or trains within a reasonable travel distance. Some House Republicans want to eliminate it.

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