The House District of Columbia Committee, which lost much of its lawmaking role when the city won limited home rule in 1975, has gone seven months this year without bringing a single bill to the House floor for a vote.
That dubious mark was reached yesterday, which was set aside on the House calendar as a "District Day," the last time in July on which local legislation may be considered. Although two bills have been cleared by the committee for House action, Committee Chairman Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.) has not sought to have them considered. Diggs were not available for comment yesterday.
The committee's lawmaking burden dropped dramatically after much of the city's legislative power was shifted from Congress to the D.C., City Council in 19754. Since 1973, when there was a change of chairmen, the committee's staff has balloned from nine persons to 40 listed on its payroll.
The Senate District Subcommittee, the closest comparable Senate unit, has a staff of six.
Edward C. Sylvester Jr., the House committee's staff director, said in an interview that it would be both unfair and "simplistic" to criticize the committee for not moving bills to the House floor.
Sylvester said the committee's exercises extensive "oversight" of District matters, including a review of all legislation passed by the City Council. He added that the committee staff is drafting a far-reaching economic development bill based upon six days of hearings earlier this year.
In addition, Sylvester said, committee activity on some matters has been delayed until President Carter gets a report - expected next month - from the task force on District problems he formed a few weeks after taking office last January.
Creation of the task force was first suggested to Carter by Diggs. Diggs succeeded former Rep. John L. McMillan (D.S.C.) as chairman in 1973.
In 1973-74, the last two-year Congress prior to home rule, a check of House documents shows that the District Committee sent 26 bills to the House floor for action. Four of those bills were passed by the House prior to Aug. 1, 1973, a period comparable to the first seven months of this in which no District bills have been acted upon by the House.
In 1975-76, under Home rule, the District Committee sent 15 bills to the floor. One of those was passed by the House in the first seven months of 1975.
In the House, the District Committee retains its status as a major committee. It apparently is the only one that has not moved any legislation through the House so far this year.
One of the now-pending District Committee bills could be crucial to the city's finances. It would permit the District to continue borrowing from the U.S. Treasury to finance municipal construction programs, including the proposed downtown convention center.
The other pending bill would require the federal government to pay its water bill to the city on a current basis rather than a year late. Both measures were approved by the District Committee on May 5.
A third and even more significant bill also has been approved by the committee and sent to the House floor, but has been stalled while the White House decides whether to support it. The measure would provide $769 million in federal funds over the next 25 years to help the District pay pensions to thousands of retirees.
After Diggs replaced McMillan as chairman in 1973, the size of the DIstrict Committee staff grew sharply. Its three subcommittees, which mever previously had their own staffs, were given permanent staff members of their own.
Under a somewhat murky House procedure, committee staffs are divided into two groups - the "standing" (or permanent) staff, and an "investigative" staff - which are paid from separate funds. Their combined payroll last month was listed in House records as $77,430.
Sylvester said the committee reduced its own budget request to the House Administration Committee for the "standing" committee this year from the $409,000 approved in 1976, of which $370,000 was actually spent. This year it asked for $319,000 and got $275,000.