Nation in brief

National Airport to reopen

A decision to reopen National Airport could be reached by the middle of this week, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said Friday.

“It will definitely reopen,” Mineta told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Every day we work with the Secret Service and the National Security Council, coming up with alternative plans to make sure that they’re satisfied about security.”

The airport is the only commercial airport in the nation to remain closed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics of reopening the airport are worried about its close proximity to important government buildings and national monuments.

Several government officials suggested turning the airport into a training center for aviation security, while others said it should be a military base.

Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) made clear Friday the airport must reopen for symbolic reasons and also to restore economic activity to hard-hit Arlington and Alexandria, Va.

“The fact that the airport in the nation’s capital is still closed, I think, sends the wrong signal to the American public,” Moran said on ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

The highly contentious decision grew even more heated Friday when White House spokesman Ari Fleischer played down Mineta’s original claim that it would reopen.

Fleischer said no decision had been finalized. Later in the day, an aide to Mineta said the secretary overstepped his bounds.

Officials map plans for Pennsylvania Avenue

Local and federal officials are expected to tell President George W. Bush this week he should keep Pennsylvania Avenue closed in front of the White House and instead build an underground tunnel to ease traffic congestion.

The tunnel plan is the latest announcement in a series of ideas on how to free the flow of traffic that was restricted when President Clinton closed the section of roadway in 1995.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Secret Service closed E Street between 15th and 17th Streets NW, a move that funneled close to 40,000 vehicles to other east-west streets downtown.

The current proposal calls for a steel and concrete-reinforced tunnel under E Street or Pennsylvania Avenue. The car-only passageway would protect the presidential residence and nearby buildings from a potential bomb blast.

The Secret Service may allow tourist vehicles or city-run shuttles to use the closed stretch of roadway, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

A tunnel would take five years to design and build and cost between $70 million and $140 million, the task force in charge of the recommendations estimated.

Congress changes focus

The fierce budget and policy debate that was expected to consume the time of Congress and the president this fall is likely to change shape, some members of Congress said last week.

Congressional Democrats said they are worried that the White House may overlook other important legislative matters in its fight to wipe out terrorism.

Education, farm subsidies and prescription drugs were a few of the measures slated for discussion this fall – issues that largely have not reached a House-Senate conference.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle from South Dakota said federal aid for schools is the only legislation not related to the Sept. 11 attacks that President Bush has addressed with him.

Daschle told the New York Times Sunday that Democrats hopes in achieving many of their plans with the education bill “are greatly diminished.”

Important legislation could be brought to a vote or challenged by a filibuster, but lawmakers worry that intense partisan bickering could erase the softer tone and unity on Capitol Hill since the Sept. 11 attacks.

-Zeb Eckert

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