CONGRESS IS NOT YET putting up candidates for mayor, county executive or council around the region. But its members do from time to time appoint themselves overseers, and they press their views on what should and shouldn't be allowed with little regard for the authority of elected local governments. Among the latest to join this list are Sens. Jesse Helms, Alan Cranston and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Rep. William Dannemeyer. Mr. Helms and Mr. Dannemeyer seek to overturn legislation passed by the D.C. Council, while Mr. Cranston and Mr. Moynihan are trying to upset plans for an office tower in Prince George's County. Though we don't care for either of the two decisions, they are the products of a democratic process. The congressional attempts to interfere in them have no rightful place.
The Helms-Dannemeyer initiative is in the form of a congressional resolution to disapprove D.C. Council legislation that would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people who test positive for exposure to the AIDS virus. We consider this a bad bill, for it compels the insurance industry to give special treatment to one category of people regardless of risk considerations applied to other groups. Sen. Helms and Rep. Dannemeyer have seized on the law to rail against homosexuals. The two assert that the bill would make the city a magnet for people exposed to AIDS; they see the question of "whether or not we are going to equate the homosexual life style on a par with the heterosexual life style." But who's "we" here? It happens that the bill, similar to laws in California and Wisconsin, was passed unanimously by the elected council.
Sen. Cranston, with cosponsor Moynihan, would limit the height of the proposed 52-story PortAmerica office tower in Prince George's unless its developers pay $570 million for exceeding height restrictions as established in a bill the senators have introduced. The bill would limit building heights in all of the Washington suburbs and set a maximum of about 14 stories for the PortAmerica project. While we respect the senators' concern for the Washington skyline, what about some respect for self-government in Prince George's? Or are they willing to let Congress also control specifications for the Golden Gate Bridge or height limitations on the Empire State Building?
Bashing local government decisions in this region is a great congressional sport in which points can be scored in home districts at no political cost to the player. But taking advantage of congressional oversight authority in order to overturn local decisions mocks the praise of states' rights and grass-roots democracy that members of Congress are so quick to sing back home.