The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans on the Hill just thumbed their noses at D.C.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

There’s no sugarcoating what is taking place on Capitol Hill. By embedding anti-home-rule riders in the fiscal 2019 D.C. appropriations bill, House and Senate Republicans are thumbing their noses at citizens of the District and their elected leaders. This affront to our nation’s capital is contemptible.

The 1973 Home Rule Act delegates local legislative power to the city government. Congress, of course, retains constitutional authority over the District. But D.C. leaders, taking actions that deal exclusively with D.C. matters, are working within the authority of the federal law enacted 45 years ago.

GOP members of Congress, however, are laughing at the city’s home-rule authority. Their lack of respect is tangible.

The fiscal 2019 D.C. appropriations bills pending in the House and Senate would repeal the city-enacted Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012, which removes the city’s local funds from the congressional approval process, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in a press release.

The House’s version of the bill also strikes down another city law, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, which bars D.C. employers from discriminating on the basis of reproductive health decisions against workers, their spouses or their dependents.

There’s more.

House Appropriations Committee Republicans added riders that prohibit the city from spending its own money on recreational marijuana commercialization, as well as on abortion services for low-income women. Republican appropriators also seek to repeal the city’s Death with Dignity Act.

Other right-wing House Republicans are getting in on the act. This week, two such lawmakers, Mark Meadows (N.C.) and Gary Palmer (Ala.), filed additional anti-home-rule riders of their own. One measure would prohibit the District from using its own funds to implement Initiative 77, the referendum passed by the voters in June eliminating the tipped minimum wage. The second rider would block the District from spending its own funds to implement a local law, passed early this summer to substitute for the gutted Obamacare individual mandate, requiring city residents to have health insurance.

None of the city-enacted measures encroaches upon any of the nation’s 435 congressional districts. None requires the spending of a single federal tax dollar. The city’s measures do not run afoul of federal interests.

But most Republicans on Capitol Hill don’t care what the District thinks. They consider themselves the city’s council and mayor.

So once again, as has happened year after year of congressional Republican rule, Norton is going to take to the floor of the House in an effort to fend off GOP interference in the city’s business. Norton is expected to force a vote in the House chamber next week on each of the anti-home-rule riders, so constituents around the country can see how their representatives spend and waste time sticking their noses into the District’s business.

She probably won’t marshal enough members to strike all of the anti-home-rule riders from the D.C. appropriations bill. And she can expect no support from a White House that views D.C. citizens with the same regard and empathy that it has for immigrants from Central America.

But Norton has right on her side, and a voice with which to expose the Republican offenses. Sadly, she doesn’t have a vote to go with it.

And that’s because the District of Columbia, which has a population of nearly 700,000, which sends sons and daughters to fight and die in U.S. wars, which pays among the highest per capita federal taxes in the nation, does not have a voting member in either the House or the Senate.

Congress can rectify these problems. But not today’s Congress as constituted.

The only way to set right the wrongs inflicted upon the District is to send right-wing Republicans home. That means D.C. citizens who support self-determination should join forces with all those fair-minded voters in congressional districts who also want to change their representation in Washington.

Volunteer with opposition leaders in the congressional districts and states of anti-home-rule members to text, canvas and make phone calls to voters to educate them about the anti-democratic records of their representatives in Washington. Contribute to the campaign coffers of challengers to the anti-D.C. home-rule cabal in Congress. Democracy in the District is under attack. Citizens should mobilize to fight back.

Means, methods and opportunity: District citizens have all three. Use them.

Republican contempt for the District should not stand.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

Read more:

Benjamin Freed: Five myths about D.C. home rule

Colbert I. King: The best-kept secret in the District of Columbia

Colbert I. King: The Republican Party has punked out in D.C.

Colbert I. King: D.C. promises to fix its graduation scandal. So far, so bad.

Colbert I. King: Concealed guns are already all over D.C.