As an actor, Ronald Reagan used to see his name in lights. Now, as a former president, he'll soon find it on a different kind of marquee: Washington National Airport.
Congress planned to get a one-day jump on Reagan's 87th birthday by voting Wednesday to rename the airport as "Ronald Reagan National Airport."President Clinton is ready to sign the bill, spokesman Mike McCurry said Wednesday, because "I think for him it came down to a question of honoring Ronald Reagan."
Congressional Republicans had placed Clinton in an unenviable situation: Veto the bill and risk outraging Reagan sympathizers or sign the bill and submit to the will of the GOP, which controls both the House and Senate.
During Wednesday's debate on Capitol Hill, the Senate voted 76-22 in favor of a bill to rename National, on the west side of the Potomac, as the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Later in the day, the House voted 240-186 in favor of a slightly different bill that dropped the word "Washington" from the title.
The House was expected to adopt the Senate's version Thursday so the measure could be completed before Reagan celebrates his birthday on Friday.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich praised the renaming as a fitting tribute to an ailing president "who transformed the world" by helping bring down inflation and ending the Cold War. Reagan now suffers from Alzheimer's disease.
"I hope that the president and Mrs. Reagan, watching this happen, will have some small sense that there is enormous affection in this country for Ronald Reagan, and there is a deep sense of gratitude for the leadership that he showed," Gingrich said.
Added House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas: "Ronald Reagan is the most loved man in America today."
Reagan's wife, Nancy, later issued a statement in Los Angeles expressing gratitude to Congress.
Despite the outpouring of sentiment, opponents of the bill argued that the measure violates the federal government's lease to a local airport authority, which Reagan signed into law in 1986.