Congress agreed Wednesday to rename Washington National Airport for Ronald Reagan, but the honor it bestowed on the two-term Republican president did not come easily.
The Senate’s version of the Reagan bill, which passed by a 76-22 margin, would redesignate the airport as the “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.” The House bill, which passed 240-186, calls it “Ronald Reagan National Airport.”
The House today is expected to sign off on the Senate version.
Backers of the new name praised the ailing Reagan as an American hero who helped bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union and restored people’s confidence in their country. His feats of statesmanship, they said, deserved a fitting tribute.
“When Reagan restored America to its foremost place in the world,” said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., “he gave it the gift of freedom - freedom from fear, from insecurity, and from the emotional, physical and financial costs of the Cold War.”
He urged Congress to enact the legislation in time for President Clinton’s signature by Friday - Reagan’s 87th birthday. The White House said Wednesday that Clinton would sign the bill.
Congressional opponents said they did not object to paying tribute to Reagan. But they argued that naming the world-renowned Washington National Airport for Reagan was inappropriate and ran counter to local sentiment.
Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., who represents a District of Columbia suburb, contended that Congress was impinging on local control of National.
“Contrary to President Reagan’s philosophy of decentralizing the government,” she said, “Congress is reaching into this local authority, against the wishes of all the local governments and citizens’ groups in the area that oppose the name change. Reagan himself initiated and signed into law the legislation that transferred control of the airport” to a local authority.
Away from Capitol Hill, some air traffic controllers complained that the airport would now bear the name of the president who fired 11,000 members of their union to break up the 1981 controllers’ strike.
Critics also maintained that appropriate memorials to Reagan already had been approved by Congress, including a new federal office building here - second in size only to the Pentagon - and a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be launched in 2000.
The Senate killed an amendment by Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada to strip J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters here. Reid argued that Hoover’s abuses of power and civil liberties had so defamed him that his name should not be honored on one of the nation’s most prominent citadels of justice.
But Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, countered that Hoover “deserves most of the credit” for erecting the FBI building and that “thousands of FBI agents would have been very upset” if Reid’s amendment had been adopted.