State Journal Register

July 16, 2002

House unexpectedly strikes down O'Hare expansion plan 


WASHINGTON - In a surprise twist Monday, the U.S. House defeated, at least temporarily, a compromise plan to expand Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

"This is a tremendous victory for the tens of thousands of people who are opposed to O'Hare's expansion," said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Wood Dale, a chief opponent whose district includes O'Hare and whose constituents would be most directly affected by the expansion plan.

The loss was a shock for the measure's proponents, who pledged to bring it up again for another vote possibly as early as this week.

Their strategy on Monday of calling for a vote under procedures for
noncontroversial bills backfired. Under the ploy, they needed a two-thirds majority of those present to pass. With 45 members absent, the House rejected the plan 247 to 143.

"I'm disappointed," said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, R-Wilmette, one of the chief backers of the bill. "Henry Hyde is an enormously influential member of Congress, and I think he was the key to the number of votes the other side got."

Supporters of the bill are hoping that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, will bring it back for a vote under the regular rules, which require a simple majority for approval but could leave it vulnerable to amendments.

The measure is aimed at preventing any future Illinois governor from vetoing the O'Hare expansion agreement reached by Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat.

The Senate's version of the bill, being pushed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also is expected to encounter obstacles. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., has threatened a filibuster. He called the House vote "a victory for the little guy over the powerful monied interests pushing Mayor Daley's O'Hare expansion plan."

Monday's House debate exposed a long-running feud among members of the Illinois delegation that flared up in the gubernatorial campaign as well.

"This bill is a vital economic engine for Chicago, for the state and for the nation," said Rep. William Lipinski, D-Chicago, who teamed with Kirk to champion the bill.

But Hyde called it "corporate welfare of the most blatant sort," and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Chicago, contended the legislation would unconstitutionally interfere with states' rights.

They support building a third airport at Peotone instead of expanding O'Hare, a project that would eliminate many suburban homes and businesses.

The Ryan-Daley agreement involves reconfiguring runways at O'Hare to allow the number of flights to increase from 900,000 to 1.6 million a year. It also promotes the construction of a third airport at south suburban Peotone and requires keeping open Meigs Field on Chicago's lakefront.

To gain support needed to move the bill in the House, the Peotone provision was dropped.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, said he voted against the bill in part because of that change. He also objects to the number of homes and businesses that would be uprooted under the Ryan-Daley plan.

"Too many people and a couple of cemeteries will be displaced, which is a real hardship," said LaHood, who also represents part of Springfield.

Springfield city and airport officials recently came out in support of the plan.

Far from noncontroversial, the bill "splits the Illinois delegation right down the middle," said Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, an opponent.

Reps. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, David Phelps, D-Eldorado, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, all voted in favor of the bill.

Illinois' Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Rep. Rod Blagojevich, also voted for the bill.

The Republican nominee for governor, Attorney General Jim Ryan, supports a smaller expansion of O'Hare, but not the southern runway in the Daley-Ryan plan that would destroy homes in Bensenville.

The House bill was brought up for a vote Monday under procedures usually reserved for noncontroversial bills. It came between resolutions honoring late baseball legend Ted Williams and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.