Aviation, highway funding fights on tap for 2012

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In addition to the funding fight, the FAA has an acting administrator, Michael Huerta, who could be put up for Senate confirmation. Huerta, who was confirmed to be deputy FAA administrator in 2010, replaced former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt after Babbitt was arrested for drunk driving earlier this month.

There has been some speculation that Huerta might stay "acting" FAA administrator to avoid a confirmation fight in the middle of a presidential election.

If the FAA's funding issues are resolved by the end of January, it could end up being the precursor for a larger fight about federal highway spending. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users was extended until the end of March in the same bill that renewed the FAA's funding.

In addition to providing funding for highway and road projects, the SAFETEA-LU bill authorizes the federal gas tax to be collected, which is currently about 18 cents per gallon. Aviation experts said the shutdown of the FAA cost the federal government about $30 million per day in lost sales taxes on airline tickets, but the gas tax brings in about $100 million per day.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), has said he thinks the election next year might make lawmakers more likely to approve a long-term highway bill. Transportation advocates have pushed for a six-year bill, but the Senate has proposed a two-year bill at a higher annual funding level, which they prefer.