Republicans Run out of Time and Votes on D.C. Appropriations
Statement from Congresswoman Eleanor Homes Norton
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July 25, 2003
Washington, DC--Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today said she was disgusted to see Congress go home today with virtually all its appropriations completed except the District's. Norton was called to the House Floor yesterday evening for debate on the Rule for the D.C. appropriation but when she got to the floor, D.C. was abruptly pulled. With the House scheduled to adjourn Friday, time was a problem, but Republican also had a special problem with D.C. They needed more time to shore up votes because the vouchers proposed for the bill have proved controversial among Republicans members. The D.C. vouchers bill got out of the Government Reform Committee by only one vote because a few Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill.
It is generally difficult to get final passage of a D.C. appropriation bill without Democratic votes, because many Republicans vote against the D.C. appropriation, no matter what. The Democratic Whip notice yesterday called for a no vote on the amendment to attach the vouchers bill to the D.C. appropriation, a yes vote on a motion to strike the vouchers amendment, and a no vote on the D.C. appropriations if vouchers were included. Most Democrats and many Republicans will not vote for a bill with vouchers in it, among other reasons, because of the unpopularity of vouchers nationwide. Vouchers referenda have been held in many states but none has passed because most jurisdictions fear action that will open the way to a loss of public funds to private schools. Further, legislatures in 37 states have turned down vouchers, making it difficult for many Members to support vouchers in Congress.
Norton said D.C. officials supporting vouchers underestimated the bipartisan controversy D.C. vouchers would cause. She said that the voucher proposal may survive but that it was "absolutely predictable" that private school vouchers would side track the appropriation. Vouchers for low-income children nationwide failed in the 105th Congress 191-238 and the margins have widened since. In the 106th a similar $100 million bill failed, in the 107th Congress, vouchers were defeated in the No Child Left Behind Act despite intense lobbing by President Bush, and most recently in the 108th Congress in April two voucher amendments on the IDEA special education bill were defeated 182-240 and 176-247. "It won't be the first time Congress applied a different standard to D.C. than to themselves," Norton said. "This time, however, they have their work cut out for them, as the vote in committee showed. Many members have urban school districts like D.C. but nevertheless have voted against vouchers, making it more difficult to reverse themselves.
Letters to the appropriators were hurriedly gathered by several members of the D.C. Council and the Board of Education, and D.C.'s two major parents organizations, Parents United and the P.T.A., also sent letters in anticipation of the appropriation. According to these letters a majority of D.C.'s elected officials continue to oppose vouchers.