- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

The top four Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate yesterday urged the reopening of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as soon as security improvements are completed.
"If National stays down, I think the terrorists have achieved one of their goals, and that's to scare the American people. I would certainly hope it would open up again," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The speaker was joined by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
When "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert asked if anyone disagreed with Mr. Hastert's comments, the other leaders said in unison, "No."
"Reagan should reopen?" Mr. Russert asked.
"Yes," all four lawmakers replied.
Reagan Airport has been closed since Sept. 11, when the Federal Aviation Administration shut down all U.S. airports following the terrorist attacks.
It is the only major U.S. airport, however, that has remained closed, owing to concerns about its proximity to government nerve centers and national landmarks. The hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon flew from Dulles International Airport, not Reagan National.
There has been speculation that the airport would remain closed indefinitely. Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent CNN interview that keeping Reagan Airport closed permanently might be the "prudent" thing to do.
However, The Washington Times, quoting congressional sources, reported last week that Reagan Airport would reopen after Oct. 4, when two separate federal task forces release reports with recommendations for improved airline and airport security.
On NBC yesterday, Mr. Hastert said, "For all of us who fly out of Washington two or three times a week," reopening Reagan Airport is "pretty important."
He added: "We need to balance that [convenience] with security and make sure that planes coming in and out are secure, that we can protect [passengers]. But certainly that [reopening the airport] is a symbol for this nation that people tourists and business people and politicians can move freely in and out of this city."
The airline industry is suffering financially as a result of the attacks. Companies are faced with a drastic decline in demand for air travel plus higher operational costs associated with increased security requirements.
On Friday night, Congress passed emergency legislation to provide the airline industry with a $15 billion package $5 billion in cash and $10 billion in loan guarantees as compensation for their losses. President Bush announced Saturday that he will OK the legislation.
But as Mr. Daschle said yesterday on "Meet the Press": "We can provide the airlines with all the money they need, but people aren't going to climb on board again until they know they're secure, and our job is to see that security is provided, and we're going to do that."
Both he and Mr. Gephardt said the best way to do that would be to have the federal government take responsibility for all airport security. At this time, security screening at airports is handled by private security personnel contracted by airlines and airports.
"We must convince the American people very quickly that it's safe to go to airports and to get on airplanes and fly as we did before Sept. 11, and I think the federal government has the central responsibility for that," said Mr. Gephardt.
"We have to work out who pays for what part of it. We can't disregard all those facts," he added.
However, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters last week that the Bush administration opposes proposals for federal employees to conduct security checks at airports.
On NBC yesterday, Mr. Hastert was asked if he thinks Congress could accept a surtax that might add an extra $5 or $10 to the price of every airline ticket and that would be used to "hire competent and professional employees" to screen passengers and luggage.
Mr. Hastert noted that airline passengers pay a surtax on their tickets now. "I don't know how we're going to fund this. It might be the government's responsibility to do that. We haven't made that decision yet," said Mr. Hastert.
But he stressed the need for Americans to have the "most competent people there at those gates" screening would-be passengers and luggage to ensure flights are safe.
Like Mr. Hastert, Mr. Lott did not commit himself to supporting a federal takeover of airport security. But he said Congress needs to address the issue of airport safety "very quickly," predicting it will be taken up "in the next 10 days or so."
The Senate Republican leader pointed out that a bipartisan bill addressing this issue has already been introduced in the Senate.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide