In a day of monologues punctuated by curt exchanges, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) held the Senate floor for the better part of seven hours yesterday in an effort to derail a bill to shift control of National and Dulles airports from the federal government to a regional authority.
"A fire sale is being conducted over at the Department of Transportation," he said at the beginning of a day in which he and Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) often were the only senators in the room.
Sarbanes' filibuster on a motion to proceed with a bill that would transfer the two Virginia airports from federal ownership to a regional authority lasted into the evening, when Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) filed a petition to cut it off.
Debate on the bill itself is scheduled to begin Friday, but Sarbanes indicated yesterday that he may seek to introduce dozens of amendments on the floor, which would again delay action.
He and other Maryland lawmakers have long objected to the proposed transfer, saying it would give Virginia an unfair competitive advantage over Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is owned by Maryland and competes for business with Dulles.
Early in the afternoon, Trible asked Sarbanes if it was "his intention to permit us to discuss this bill."
"Certainly not today," Sarbanes replied.
"If it is the senator's intention to proceed," Trible said, "then it is my intention to sit here and listen."
Sarbanes repeatedly accused the federal government of giving the airports to Virginia -- the authority would pay $47 million for the cost of development, not the worth of the two properties -- and argued that Maryland would not have a sufficient voice on the new regional board.
Responding to a statement by Sarbanes that Maryland was prepared to pay twice what the federal government was asking for the airports, Trible said: "That may have been a more attractive offer but we were concerned that the check would be drawn on a savings and loan in Maryland."
The remark, a dig at the troubles of financial institutions in Maryland, drew a glare from Sarbanes.
Besides Sarbanes, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) made several speeches opposing the transfer.
At one point, he gave a long lecture about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, alleging that pressure to launch that vehicle in January was similar to the pressure the Reagan administration has mounted to pass the transfer bill.
The Reagan administration -- particularly Transportation Secretary Elizabeth H. Dole -- has lobbied hard in favor of shifting the ownership of National and Dulles to a regional authority.
They are currently operated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and each is in need of large amounts of money for capital improvements. If the airports are transferred to a regional authority, it would be able to raise money for capital development by issuing revenue bonds.
If the Senate approves the bill, it still must go to the House for action.