THE HOUSE leaders contend that they yield to no one in their concern for the well-being of the nation's capital. However, as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said last week, that claim was forfeited by the leadership's cynical attachment of the largest spending bill -- Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) -- to the D.C. budget, the smallest appropriations bill. The reason for doing so speaks poorly of the House.

The $313 billion Labor-HHS bill produced by a subcommittee stood little chance of clearing the House without public debate and possible amendments either in full committee or on the floor. It was also clear to the GOP leadership that the bill would be veto-bait if it reached the president's desk in stand-alone fashion. To avoid that kind of exposure, the leadership hitched the massive Labor-HHS measure to District's budget bill, thus making the city, as Del. Norton put it, "a beast of burden to serve other masters."

Now because of the House's action, the District's budget is likely to be vetoed for a fourth time this year. That means the city still will have to operate at last year's budget levels under a continuing resolution. But the injury doesn't stop there. As a further insult to the city's leaders -- who produced a spending plan with a surplus and the largest tax cut in the city's history -- the District's budget also will suffer a $4.2 million cut in federal funds. That's because the House, positioning itself for a showdown with the White House over the federal budget, imposed a one percent cut in almost every federal agency. The across-the-board reduction aimed at the country's largest social programs also fell on the portion of federal funds contained within the District's budget.

It's unconscionable for Congress to treat the District this way. The city should not be caught in the middle of partisan sparring over issues that Democrats and Republicans want to carry into next year's national elections. Instead of holding the District hostage to their political agendas, congressional Republicans and the Clinton administration should drop the city from their game and let the city's leaders -- who are public officials, not pawns -- get on with the business of running their government.