With its preliminary organization done and the House out of session, the Senate gets down to something resembling regular business this week by taking up a long-stalled Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.
The two-year bill sets FAA policy on issues like adoption of its "NextGen" satellite-based air traffic control system, and authorizes about $35 billion in spending.
The bill represents an unusual example of legislation whose prospects have improved in the newly divided Congress. The same measure passed the Senate 93-0 last year, but the House and Senate could not reconcile their versions of the bill, largely due to labor and UPS-backed language in the House legislation that eased the ability of FedEx workers to unionize.
But with the defeat of former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., the key backer of the labor provision, and the GOP takeover of the House, industry officials and congressional aides hope the bill can advance quickly this year.
Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a trade group backing reauthorization, said lawmakers in both chambers have indicated a desire to move fast. That leaves the industry hopeful that the bill can pass before the current short-term FAA authorization expires in March. Congress has passed 16-straight short-term reauthorizations.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., has called the bill his first priority, and he is expected to hold a markup in February.
But the bipartisan desire to move the measure has not stopped it from becoming fodder for messaging fights.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill will create 100,000 jobs. He also said a good candidate for action after the chamber takes care of the FAA bill is a measure extending authorization of small-business programs, yet another jobs bill.
Reid's office says the Senate's action on the FAA bill is just the latest example of the chamber getting down to business while the Republican House postures on repealing health care reform and cutting the size of the federal workforce.
"While Democrats are focused on jobs, Republicans are pushing extreme, ideological plans to fire at least 1 million workers, explode our deficit by $1 trillion, and end Social Security and Medicare," Democratic Policy and Communications Committee spokesman Jon Summers said on Friday.
Reid, speaking Thursday night, seemed to concede that Republicans might succeed in forcing a vote on a House-passed measure to repeal health care reform sometime in the next few weeks, but he still will not bring the measure up as majority leader.
"I know the procedures of the Senate, and if the Republicans want to do all those things to people and increase the debt over the next 18 years by about $2 trillion, let them do it, but I'm not going to be part of it," he said.
However, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were discussing a vote on health care repeal on Friday, indicating the process whereby the chamber approaches the issue will be somewhat orderly.
House Republicans, who are scheduled to return next Tuesday, assert they are the ones focused on jobs.
"We have implemented new House rules that make it easier for Congress to cut spending and grow the economy. For example, all mandatory spending increases must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. No more new taxes," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said last week during an address at the Heritage Foundation.
Cantor has two appearances scheduled this week billed to lay out the GOP's "Cut and Grow" agenda.
Cantor will speak on Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. The school says he will discuss "how his party intends to deal with President Obama: areas where they will work with him, and areas where they will provide a check and balance on his policies."
Cantor will speak Friday at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where he earned his law degree.