STRING TOGETHER EVERY airstrip in Amer ica and you still wouldn't match the ridiculous lengths to which a few stubborn House conferees have been going in an attempt to block Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole's sensible, Senate-approved plan for balanced air traffic in the national capital area. Having summarily rejected a thoughtful compromise offered by the Senate conferees' leader, Republican Mark Andrews, the House team has now managed to turn the issue of National Airport future policy into a deadlock that threatens final passage of the entire Transportation Department budget. And for no good reason: not a single flight in operation today would be affected.
Why all this legislative mischief in the House? Certain larger airlines have been flapping their wings in orchestrated panic at the prospect of an adjustment in the ceiling on future passenger traffic at National. That's enough to get the attention and votes of the biggest jet-hoppers in the House, whether or not they realize that current flights are in no jeopardy.
It isn't as if the Senate were being unreasonable, either; Sen. Andrews even suggested a compromise that would prohibit Secretary Dole's plan from taking effect for 60 days from enactment of the bill. This would allow time for further negotiations between the airline industry and DOT, the senator explained. Sen. Andrews and Secretary Dole, who has been standing firm against the House conferees' opposition, have also suggested a willingness to reconsider precisely how the count of passengers would be made. It could be adjusted, for example, not to include certain passengers, such as those who are stopping for connecting flights.
In any event, Congress would retain recourse to do as it pleased later, if negotiations failed to produce a formula acceptable to all sides. So there is no justifying the House conferees' obstruction tactics on this issue. Secretary Dole has devoted extraordinary time and thought to the question of what would be the safest and most logical approach to a balanced airports policy--and she is right in fighting hard for it. Sen. Andrews, too, has been most considerate in his effort to reach agreement. The House language never belonged in an appropriations bill, anyway, even if it is an old trick: but now an entire agency's budget hangs in the balance-- and the House conferees should stop playing games.