GONE ARE THE days when District heads were bending low, begging before full-fledged and iron-fisted congressional committees for permission to do things that normal city governments anywhere else could and did do as a matter of course. Today, home rule as it has come to be known over the last 10 years is by no means total, but the elected mayor and members of the D.C. Council do formulate and execute policy with minimal congressional interference. This healthy change is what moved a longtime strong supporter of full local authority for the District -- Rep. Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut -- to propose to his colleagues that the House District Committee be abolished. It's time.
Congress would still retain all its ultimate authority over the District -- including, alas, the authority to wipe out home rule anytime it wants. What Mr. McKinney is proposing is a downgrading of the oversight functions to a subcommittee. That was done in the Senate a decade ago, with no harm to speak of. The benefits are both symbolic and financial: the change would acknowledge the shift of local authority to the District Building, and it would save a bundle in money now spent for the full committee.
Any full House committee begins with 30 permanent employees. And as of Jan. 3, the House District Committee had that plus 10 investigative employees. Add up everything and you're looking at maybe $1.7 million in spending for a year. To do what?
The change should not be interpreted as a criticism of its chairman, Rep. Ronald V. Dellums of California, who has supported maximum home rule, including statehood. Mr. McKinney, as ranking Republican, is the other committee leader whose ability to select staff members would vanish. As Mr. Dellums commented in noting that he is not bothered by the proposal, "I'm not concerned about power. What kind of power does the chairman of the D.C. Committee have? It's ludicrous."
It didn't used to be, Lord knows. But long live the difference.