House debates O'Hare expansion measure
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- With House Speaker Dennis Hastert an active ally, supporters of expanding Chicago's O'Hare International Airport prepared Tuesday to push through the House a bill they say is crucial for their proposed $6 billion project.
The measure would bar future Illinois governors from blocking the expansion agreed to last December by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. George Ryan. State law gives the governor power to block expansion.
Supporters argue O'Hare expansion will reduce airport delays by about 80 percent and generate 195,000 jobs. Critics counter it will create environmental and safety problems and that the legislation is unconstitutional federal interference in a state matter.
"This bill seeks to sidestep the (Illinois) Legislature and have Washington decide a local issue," said GOP Rep. Henry Hyde, a leading expansion opponent whose suburban Chicago district includes O'Hare. "This is a massive transfer of power to Congress."
Sponsoring Rep. William Lipinski said the measure was necessary because, without it, O'Hare's plans could be destroyed after the next governor takes office in January. Ryan is not seeking re-election.
The next governor "has the arbitrary veto power and (can) chuck it out the window and say we're going to keep the gridlock in the Midwest in aviation," said Lipinski, a Chicago Democrat.
Under the House's fast-track rules that limit debate and amendments, the legislation requires a two-thirds majority to advance to the Senate, rather than the simple majority typically required.
O'Hare supporters tried to use the special rules to their advantage on July 15 but were shocked to come up short on a 247-143 vote in favor of their bill.
That prompted congressional sponsors to huddle with Hastert last Thursday to map out a strategy to bring it to a second House vote.
Another O'Hare bill is pending in the Senate. It has stronger language that encourages Federal Aviation Administration approval of a regional airport south of Chicago near Peotone.
Ryan supports passage of the House bill as a way to move legislation that might be amended later but prefers the Senate version -- sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. -- because of its stronger Peotone language, spokesman Dennis Culloton said.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Chicago Democrat who supports the Peotone plan, objected to the House debate's limit on amendments that prevented him from pushing for language similar to the Senate bill.
"Even if you agree with the substance, you should be against the process," he said.