D.C. and the 113th Congress

January 3, 2013

Issa’s interest in city affairs abides. (Bloomberg)

Members of the 113th Congress are being sworn in this afternoon, so beginning another two years of work for the District’s constitutional overlord.

So just how overlord-y is Congress likely to get this time around, given that some of the more District-friendly members have taken their leave from Capitol Hill?

Thus far, things are looking OK for D.C.

In perhaps the biggest development, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will keep District matters in the full committee, rather than placing them in a subcommittee’s portfolio.

In and of itself, that’s no huge deal. It’s preferable for uncontroversial D.C. matters, like bills to change special election dates or Hatch Act provisions, to only have to pass through one round of committee markups and votes rather than two.

The big difference is in the personnel. It means Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will be playing lead rather than the new chair of what likely would have been the relevant subcommittee, Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who is a member of the conservative Tea Party Caucus and Republican Study Committee.

Issa, also an RSC member, isn’t exactly a moderate, but he’s established a working relationship with city leaders and has expressed a willingness to focus on issues like budget autonomy and building heights.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) gave the move a glowing review in a Wednesday evening statement: “Chairman Darrell Issa has shown … deep knowledge and concern for District issues and respect for the city’s home rule and its general welfare. The direct involvement of a chairman who wants to strengthen the city and its presence in the Congress cannot be overemphasized.”

The bigger question concerns the House Appropriations subcommittee handling the District budget, ground zero for riders that can restrict the city’s ability to spend public funds on controversial policy matters like abortion, guns, medical marijuana, gay marriage and needle exchange.

Replacing the retiring moderate Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) as chair of the subcommittee is Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), now in his seventh term representing the Jacksonville area.

Crenshaw is a solid conservative, a member of the Tea Party Caucus  and a holder of top ratings from the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association. But he is not particularly known as an ideological firebrand, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll see District budget riders as a good use of his subcommittee’s time and energy.

On the Senate side, as expected, Tom Carper (D-Del.) will take over the Homeland Security and Government Affairs panel that oversees District matters. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is expected to be named ranking member.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · January 3, 2013