IT'S ALMOST HISTORY now -- or at least we had sort of hoped it would be -- but one of the great misguiding principles to which Congress adhered religiously during the worst years of its control over the District of Columbia was what we used to call the Colonial Rule of Thumb: do unto others as you wouldn't dare to do to your own constituents back home. With the District then squarely under the thumb of Congress, any member on Capitol Hill who didn't approve of something the local government was doing could find any number of devious ways to punish the city until it behaved.
Today, the congressional leash on life in this city may be much longer, but Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.) has just demonstrated that the old bullying tactics are still alive and useful. Because Mr. Parris is unhappy with the way the District government handles its sewage sludge disposal, he has been playing unfunny hostage games with legislation of utmost importance to the city: the federal payment.
By threatening to block the payment on a technicality -- charging that a required quorum of seven members was not present when the committee approved the legislation -- Mr. Parris succeeded in delaying House passage. Fortunately, District Committee chairman Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) was able to round up enough votes for another committee session that moved the bill along for the second time.
While Mr. Dellums is to be commended for his patience, Mr. Parris deserves a special citation for troublesome conduct beyond the lines of civic duty, along with a 1981 Bad Neighbor Award for his misleading description of time-honored arrangements between the District of Columbia and Fairfax County: "We get their criminals, we get their garbage, but we are not going to get their sewage." These remarks only complicated talks that were already taking place on the local level -- between city and county officials -- to reach an agreement on sludge disposal.
That a congressman can still resort to hostage-holding tactics as a way to extract concessions from this city's government is a sad commentary on the state of home rule and local fiscal autonomy in the District -- but that Mr. Parris of Fairfax should stoop to such behavior is all the more regrettable.