LAST WEEK brought reminders of the District's unique and at times supplicant relationship with Congress. In three instances, congressional panels drove home the point that Capitol Hill still looms large in D.C. affairs despite nearly 30 years of home rule.
Much attention focused on a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee on bills to expand D.C. representation in Congress. Two of the four bills represent significant steps forward. The most desirable measure, sponsored by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), would give the District two senators and one House member. Another bill, introduced by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), would temporarily expand the House by two members, to 437, adding one seat for a voting D.C. representative and a fourth member from Utah. The two least attractive measures would shift D.C. voters across the D.C. line. One would count D.C. votes toward the election of Maryland's U.S. House and Senate members. A second would retrocede most of the District to Maryland. To no one's surprise, Maryland and D.C. leaders oppose both measures. None of the bills is expected to pass this year, but this much is clear after key court decisions: The road to a D.C. vote in Congress must start in Congress.
The same conclusion applies to the District's most crucial financial problem: the "structural imbalance," or the incapacity of the city's unduly restricted taxing powers to raise enough funds to provide services to the public and the federal government. Congressional leaders, backed by their own watchdog, the General Accounting Office, acknowledged last week in a Senate hearing that the city has been dealt a bad financial hand. Only Congress can provide the remedy. A bill sponsored by Ms. Norton would do just that by authorizing an $800 million payment, adjusted annually for inflation. City leaders have been warned not to hold their breath, however. As with the idea of an expanded franchise, additional funding from Congress this year is a comforting but distant dream.
Finally, there's perhaps the unkindest cut of all: congressional reneging on the agreement to provide $13 million for D.C. public schools in exchange for city support for the federally funded school voucher programs. City officials delivered their support. Last week, however, Congress broke its pledge. Egged on by Hill staff members and backdoor lobbyists, key federal legislators placed a temporary hold on $10.6 million of the $13 million pledged to the school system, on grounds that the school spending plan was deficient and that money should be withheld until a permanent superintendent is appointed. Apparently it mattered not to Capitol Hill that the city has an interim superintendent, a school board, and an elected mayor and council who could have addressed the plan's shortcomings. By putting a hold on D.C. school funds, Congress was making another point: that members of the House and Senate -- or their staffers -- can play D.C. school superintendent any time they want and get away with it.
All this disfranchisement in the capital of the free world.