CONGRESS can't seem to pass a District of Columbia appropriations bill without using it as a vehicle of control. This city has home rule, but only up to a point. Citizens here are, in the minds of the national legislators, not quite bright enough, responsible enough or worthy enough to govern themselves as the people of Sioux Falls or Savannah do. Thus, as a condition of providing a shrinking federal payment and allowing Washingtonians to raise and spend their own taxes, Congress sets conditions that are intrusive, condescending and often in conflict with policies adopted by the local government. This year the pattern continues and the restrictions are as infuriating as ever.
Last week House and Senate conferees on the appropriations bill dealt with some of these provisions. The city was prohibited, for example, from using a certain property in Georgetown as a home for mentally troubled young people until a lawsuit by neighbors is finally adjudicated. The local government also was told it couldn't remove suicide fences on the Duke Ellington Bridge without holding a hearing. The bill bars the use of local funds to support the District's soon-to-be-elected shadow representatives. In a raging controversy, the Senate also tried to prohibit Big Brothers from allowing gay men to work with children whose parents had agreed to the arrangement, but the conferees dropped that provision from the bill. All in all, the whole exercise was micro-management at its worst.
Abortion came up again. This time Congress will not forbid the District to use its own money to pay for abortions for the poor, which it has sometimes done in years past. But the White House will balk at signing a bill without such a ban. Mandatory minimum sentences came in for review, too. In spite of the fact that the city council passed mandatory minimum statutes for drug and firearms cases in 1983, 1989 and even this year, and in spite of the fact that the city government strongly opposed congressional interference, the Senate doubled the minimums, and the House will vote later this week on accepting the increase. It is a response that takes no account of the effectiveness of the penalty or the availability of prison space in the city.
We do not always agree with the city council's actions, but right or wrong, they are the product of the democratic process. Freely elected governments can make mistakes, but it is the right of the voters -- not the body of outsiders on the Hill -- to decide whether mistakes have been made and to correct them. It is up to the citizens of this city, without pressure from the federal government, to govern themselves, to set policies and priorities and to ratify or reverse the actions of locally elected officials. It is an outrage that members of Congress, who are having a pretty tough time accomplishing their own work without descending into a trough of ridicule and indignity, think they are fit to take over zoning decisions, public welfare regulation and judicial responsibilities for the taxpayers of this city.