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Democrats Block Plan To Rename Capital Airport After Reagan Senate Republicans Accuse Other Side Of Cheap Shot, Hinder Rfk Honorarium

A plan to rename Washington National Airport after Ronald Reagan got fogged in on Capitol Hill on Thursday, but advocates hope to clear the way for the change before next Friday, the former president’s 87th birthday.

Senate Democrats successfully delayed until next week a vote on the Republicansponsored measure that would rename the 56-year-old federal facility Ronald Reagan National Airport. A similar bill has been approved by a House committee and is scheduled for a floor vote Wednesday.

Accusing Democrats of pettiness and partisanship, Senate Republicans thwarted an attempt to simultaneously rename the Justice Department headquarters in Washington in honor of former attorney general Robert F. Kennedy. However, Democrats still plan at least two amendments to the bill: One would incorporate language already passed by the House to curb Internal Revenue Service abuses, and another would set up a bipartisan commission to oversee the naming of federal buildings, bridges and other installations.

The IRS reform measure has broad support, and President Clinton urged Congress in his State of the Union address Tuesday to make it a priority in 1998. Republicans are still working on the House-passed bill in an effort to toughen it. Democrats hope to be seen as a driving force in getting the measure enacted more quickly.

Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., sponsor of the airport bill, decried what he said were Democrats’ attempts to extract a price for passage of the Reagan bill, which is considered a widely popular proposal in Congress.

“This is the definition of pettiness,” Coverdell said. “Maybe this is an indication of just how cynical this city has become from top to bottom.”

Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., the minority leader, said there is broad support for honoring Reagan, as was done when his name was attached to the International Trade Center at Federal Triangle in downtown Washington.

Daschle, however, also said George Washington’s birthday is also next month.

“People have raised the question of whether it is appropriate to take the name of Washington off the name of this particular airport,” he said. “There is some question as well about whether the Reagan family even wants this to be done.”

Daschle noted that the government already has named a new 3.1 million-square-foot - second in size to only the Pentagon - on Pennsylvania Avenue after Reagan, who turns 87 next Friday.

Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., countered that renaming the airport in honor of Reagan would do no disservice to the nation’s first president.

“Washington National Airport was not named after George Washington,” he said. “It was named after the District of Columbia.”