With House in the GOP's Hands, DC Holds its Breath
||Associated Press News Service (AP)
||Friday, November 5, 2010
Democratic and Republican voters watched anxiously this week to see which party would control Congress, but the election had added importance for the nation's capital: determining the city's bosses.
Members of Congress have oversight over the federal city, so who controls it can color the relationship with the city. In the past, Democrats have been more likely to take a hands-off approach to the city's 600,000 residents. When Republicans have been in control, the overwhelmingly Democratic city has found Congress more likely to step in.
With the House changing hands from Democrats to Republicans, speculation is already starting.
"Republicans are likely to come after the city," said Ilir Zherka, the head of D.C. Vote, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for more independence for the District and a vote in Congress. "I think all of us are anxious about the future."
Zherka said that in the past some Republicans have seen imposing conservative policies on the city as one way to score points back home. But not all have taken that approach, and this time Democrats will still control the Senate.
Still, since 2007 when Democrats took control of the House and Senate, the District has seen a number of restrictions lifted. While in control, Democrats removed a nine-year ban that kept Washington from using money for needle exchange programs and allowed the city to use tax money to help poor women pay for abortions. Politicians also allowed the city to implement a decade-old measure legalizing medical marijuana. And while a bill to give the city a voting member of Congress failed this year, other perks seemed on the horizon.
Now, however, new rights for the city seem less likely, and changes the Democrats made could be reversed.
Though Republicans have yet to decide who will head various committees in the new Congress, one Republican who could be in line to oversee the House subcommittee that handles D.C.'s budget, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, has previously opposed the district's medical marijuana law. The other major subcommittee that oversees district affairs could be headed by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, who has vigorously opposed a vote for the District in the House as well as a D.C. law allowing gay marriage.
The city's newly elected mayor, Democrat Vincent Gray, said he is committed to working with Republicans and believes the city's interests align with Republicans' message of keeping government out of the lives of citizens. How much of a difference Republican leadership will make for the city is unclear, he said.
"We'll have to see," Gray said. "I don't think we can determine that until we have a conversation."
D.C.'s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, acknowledged that Republican control has traditionally meant more interference for a city where three quarters of registered voters are Democrats.
"Our residents have felt the sting of Republicans in the past," said Norton, who has been the District's representative since 1991.
But Norton said it's important to remember that Republicans still control only one house of Congress, and she said she hasn't had any worried constituents calling yet.
Still, Republican control could have implications for her, too. Washington's delegate to Congress has never been a full voting member of the House, but under Democratic control Norton has had the privilege of voting in the House Committee of the Whole, where she can vote on proposed changes to legislation but not on its passage. Republicans took away that privilege from 1995 to 2005, when they were in control, and could do so again. Norton, however, wouldn't make any predictions about the effect of Republican control on the city.
"I can't afford to be worried," Norton said. "I have to figure a strategy for dealing with who is in charge."
This article also appeared in:
Washington Examiner (DC)