MINNEAPOLIS -- U.S. Sen. John McCain expressed his desire Monday to quickly come up with a "reasonable package" of benefits for laid-off airline industry employees.
McCain, who is chairman of a Senate committee with jurisdiction over the industry, said he expects movement on the issue this week.
"I believe a majority of Congress and the American people are in favor of a reasonable package, and not one that is an open-ended entitlement situation," the Arizona Republican told reporters before a luncheon speech here.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is the headquarters hub for Northwest Airlines, which has laid off about 9,500 employees since the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent slump in air travel.
McCain wouldn't outline specifically what he considered reasonable, but he said it would include an extension of unemployment and health care benefits. He expected the cost of such relief to be "in the tune of a couple billion dollars."
He said aid is justified because more than 90,000 airline employees nationwide were laid off as a consequence of a justifiable act by the federal government -- the days-long shutdown of U.S. airports after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Of the American military response in Afghanistan, McCain said stopping alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is crucial to success of President Bush's war on terrorism.
"I'm confident he will either be killed or captured, and if he's not, then obviously the threat will still exist," McCain said.
McCain also put on notice other countries accused of taking a soft stance on terrorism within their borders.
"The moderate Arab states -- whether it be Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait -- are going to have to start making some tough decisions, and that is to take away the microphone from these extremist organizations," McCain said.
McCain also spoke in favor of an airline security bill that the Senate passed 100-0 last week but is bottled up in the House. The major objection by some House Republican leaders is to a provision that would federalize airport security personnel at the nation's 104 biggest airports.
McCain said its essential that federal employees who are covered by federal standards staff the security checkpoints. He was echoed by U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., who said the bill would pass overwhelmingly if leaders allow a vote.
"The question is should it be a law-enforcement function or a minimum-wage function," Ramstad said. "I don't know any reasonable person who reaches any conclusion other than it clearly should be a law-enforcement function."
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