"We are smack dab in the middle of the construction season," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "In Congress we've heard many grandiose speeches about putting people to work. This isn't the way to do it."
House Democrats highlighted this, as they pivoted to talking about jobs Tuesday. "There is little that's any more important to job creation in rural communities than these small airports," said Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
The House passed a temporary extension two weeks ago, adding a rider to what is typically a routine measure. The Senate refused to pass the bill by the deadline because the rider would have eliminated subsidies to 13 rural airports, including some in the home states of key Senate leaders.
The FAA has been operating on temporary extensions since 2007, when the last FAA reauthorization expired. Since then, 20 extensions have been passed while Democrats and Republicans attempt to reach a deal over remaining parts of the larger bill.
A key point of contention in the current dispute is Republicans' desire to make it harder for air and rail employees to unionize. The elimination of rural airport subsidies dear to several senators was seen as a pressure tactic to achieve that goal. But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R., Utah) said the labor issue was critical.
"What is important here, and it's not some itty-bitty little thing, is that you have labor regulators out of control," he said on the Senate floor.
Republicans want to overturn a National Mediation Board rule that was approved last year allowing airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Republicans want those who stay home in a union election to count as "no" votes.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that he might be open to eliminating such subsidies in his home state, Nevada. But his staff later clarified that Reid did not support taking up the House-passed version of the FAA before the Senate adjourned.