ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports:
The Senate tonight passed the $35 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill by a vote of 87-8 after weeks of debate.
The FAA bill would help streamline the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System – known as NextGen – a nationwide project designed to change the country’s system from a ground-based one to a satellite-based one using GPS technology. The program, the 2004 brainchild of former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, would improve aviation safety and capacity, save airlines money and cut down on delays and pollution, according to proponents.
In addition, Democrats have touted the FAA measure as the “first jobs bill” of the new Congress, saying it would save or create an estimated 280,000 jobs.
The eight senators opposing the bill tonight were Republicans Mike Crapo, Jim DeMint, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, James Risch, Pat Toomey and David Vitter.
Five senators did not vote: Chris Coons, Bob Corker, John Kerry, John McCain and Bernie Sanders.
The bill – a two-year extension – now heads to the House.
The key issue preventing Senate passage of the bipartisan measure had been a dispute over adding more long-distance flights to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. West Coast senators wanted to see more long-distance slots, but lawmakers from states neighboring the nation’s capital opposed that idea on the grounds that it would hurt home-state airports like Dulles International in Virginia and Baltimore-Washington International in Maryland.
But this week, senators managed to reach a compromise that would add up to 16 daily round-trip flights between Reagan and western states.
The timing of tonight's final passage was important because senators were eager to pass it before the Presidents’ Day recess. Upon their return to work on Feb. 28, lawmakers will have only five days to extend federal funding to prevent a government shutdown on March 4.