Senate bill would allow Frederick Douglass statue in Capitol

June 16, 2012

The D.C. spending bill approved by a Senate panel this week would help the District government stay open in the event of a federal shutdown and would allow the city to place a statue of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass in the halls of the Capitol, advancing a pair of key priorities for local leaders.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to approve the annual measure, which would give the District $676 million in federal payments for fiscal 2013 to cover the costs of the D.C. court system, a private school voucher program, security for special events and handful of other items. Unlike the Republican-authored House version of the bill, the measure in the Democratic-controlled Senate would not prohibit the city from using its own funds to pay for abortions for low-income women.

Under the bill, if there is no federal appropriations measure in force approving the District budget — as would be the case during a federal government shutdown — then the city would be permitted to spend its local funds. That would be a welcome change for city leaders, who watched worriedly as the government nearly shut down last year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Friday praised Sens. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) — the chairman of the full Appropriations panel and the subcommittee overseeing D.C., respectively — for their work on the bill.

“I am grateful for their leadership and outstanding, continued commitment to the District of Columbia and its right to govern itself,” Norton said.

With the encouragement of Norton and other local leaders, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has been working to give the District broader autonomy, proposing to let the District spend its own money once the D.C. Council and mayor have approved a budget without waiting for congressional approval.

Norton has also been working for years to win for the District the right to put statues of two local luminaries in the halls of Congress, a privilege currently afforded to the 50 states but not U.S. territories. Completed statues of Douglass and architect Pierre L’Enfant have been sitting at One Judiciary Square awaiting permission to enter the Capitol.

Last year, House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (Calif.) — who, like most fellow Republicans, is wary of taking any steps that would put the District on par with the states — agreed to offer a bill granting the District and the U.S. territories one statue apiece.

Under the Senate spending bill, the Douglass statue would be placed in Statuary Hall. But since the House bill does not contain that provision or the limited budget autonomy language, those points will have to be negotiated by the two chambers.

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