Norton: D.C. was given ‘frosting . . . on a very big cake’

April 10, 2011

Last week was a tough one for the District of Columbia. Had the federal government shut down, city services such as trash collection would have been disrupted. But even with the short-term budget agreement reached late Friday, the city’s self-governing authority remains at risk. Imbedded in last week’s spending bill were riders specifically aimed at curtailing the District government.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s non-voting representative in Congress, spoke Sunday about the developments.

Q: You’ve said you heard from media reports about the riders. What was your first reaction?

A: Each of the [previous] short-term continuing resolutions had no riders and we were relieved. The last Republican continuing resolution has two riders, both are apparently in this final bill, although no one has seen the bill. One kept the District from spending its own local funds on abortions for low-income women. The only other rider [allowing funding for controversial school vouchers] offended us by seeming to pair us with a prohibition against bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the United States. We could not help but resent the pairing. No elected official in the District of Columbia was consulted about the D.C. vouchers. There were some rumors about the needle-exchange program. I have specifically inquired and gotten no clarification.

What did you do next?

I had been in touch with the administration and the Senate leadership all along because of two fears, the fear of the riders and the fear that shutting down the federal government would shut down the D.C. government.

Is there any chance that this can be reversed?

I am going to try my level best to reverse or mitigate any of this as much as possible. Without seeing the language in the bill it is impossible to know. Converting something into language really tells you what the deal is.

Is this fight over the fiscal 2011 budget just the warm-up?

The Republicans extracted considerably more in cuts than either the administration or the Senate indicated was acceptable. That is one reason why they should have been able to hold the line on riders affecting the District, if our own Democrats gave us any priorities in these negotiations.

Having given the Republicans more than I am sure any Democrat in the House ever envisioned, it was surely unnecessary to pile on the District of Columbia and give them some frosting on what was already a very big cake. All along they said it is about “spending, spending, spending.” How does the District of Columbia get into that equation?

What affect does this have on hopes for statehood, which were so high after the 2008 elections?

No one with any sense of what is happening would focus on our ultimate goals of voting rights or statehood because of the danger since the Republicans took power in January and their actions, which have been directed like a sword against the District’s home-rule authority. We are in a fight. The fight now that needs to engage every elected officials and resident is to keep our city from suffering the insult of a rollback of the self-governing of the city itself.

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