WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today on legislation that would allow a $1.9 billion, bond-financed capital improvement program to move forward at Washington's National and Dulles airports.
The legislation, introduced last week by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., is needed to overcome the Supreme Court's ruling last June that the review board set up to oversee the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority was unconstitutional. The review board is required to implement the bond program.
The Oberstar bill would supplant the current review board, which consists of nine members of Congress, with another nine-member panel.
The bill calls for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate to compile lists of candidates for the review board, from which the authority's board would choose nine. Candidates would be required to have experience in aviation and be frequent users of airports in the Washington area, but would not have to be members of Congress.
Rep. Oberstar's legislation also would amend the powers of the reconstituted board, removing the panel's ability to veto actions proposed by the authority's board of directors. Instead, the review board only could recommend changes to the proposed action.
If the authority's board of directors decided to go along with the changes, the action could be taken. If not, the proposed action would have to be submitted to Congress, which would have 60 days to disapprove the action.
The Oberstar bill is scheduled to be considered on the House floor today under a suspension of House rules. When the rules are suspended, bills are approved or defeated by voice vote. If House members want a recorded vote, the legislation must receive at least a two-thirds majority to be approved.
The Supreme Court on June 17 ruled the review board as then constituted violated the Constitution's separation of powers guarantee. Under the Constitution, Congress was given legislative authority and the President was given executive authority, including veto power.
Because the old review board could veto actions taken by the authority's board of directors and was composed of members of Congress, the high court concluded the panel was an extension of Congress exercising executive powers.
Though the court stopped short of invalidating actions already taken by the review board -- including approval for the issuance of $1.9 billion of bonds -- a subsequent district court order implementing the Supreme Court ruling barred the authority from using future bond proceeds at Washington National Airport.
Under the court order, the authority could use proceeds only at Dulles International Airport. The court order will remain in effect until Congress fixes the review board to pass court scrutiny.
Congress is expected to adjourn for the year by Thanksgiving, high-lighting the importance of the Oberstar bill to the airports authority, which has been operating without a budget since October. The law establishing the authority required the board of directors to submit budgets and bond proposals to the review board. Without a review panel in place, the authority has no legal budget.
David Lawhead, the authority's assistant finance manager, said the authority had not ruled out the possibility of a bond issue early next year, even in the absence of congressional action, but said officials would prefer to be able to use proceeds at both National and Dulles airports.
The law establishing the review board was challenged by Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, a citizens group made up of people who live near National who opposed expansion of the airport, an antiquated facility opened in the 1940s and largely untouched by improvements since.
Despite the airport's age, it is popular among members of Congress because it is a 15-minute drive from Capitol Hill. Establishment of the review board was a congressionally imposed prerequisite to transferring control of National and Dulles airports to the regional authority from the Federal Aviation Administration.