Suggestions that a House Republican leadership plan to reorganize the Appropriations Committee could abolish the panel with oversight of the District of Columbia’s budget drew preliminary praise from city officials Friday.
Although House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) had not made public any changes to the committee structure as of press time, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) informed city leaders last week that the District of Columbia subcommittee was “almost certain to be eliminated” in the reorganization.
Mayor Anthony Williams (D) greeted the possibility as a potential boon to the city’s legislative independence. District officials have long asserted that the appropriations process is an unnecessary intrusion into the city’s budget.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang. “While we’ve forged good relationships with the chairman, generally [Williams] agrees … that this could possibly give us more legislative and budget autonomy.”
D.C. Shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D) expressed hope that liberating the budget could lead to a reduction in amendments made to the city’s budget, such as those that restrict the District from using locally raised tax dollars to lobby for Congressional representation, as well as restrictions on needle-exchange programs and domestic partner benefits.
“We get the appropriations, but we [also] get social riders, amendments put on there that really run counter to the will of the city,” added Browne, who lobbies for statehood and voting rights as part of the District’s three-member Shadow delegation.
Norton declined to comment on the issue through a spokeswoman but issued a statement expressing support for dismantling the panel.
“Congressional oversight of the District’s local budget, of course, is never desirable,” the statement reads. “However, there are important concerns that need attention in any reorganization of the appropriations process. For example, if there is to be oversight of any kind, the understanding of how the D.C. appropriation is to be handled and the attitude of the full appropriations chair and the subcommittee chair, not the structure, are the controlling factors.”
Some media reports have indicated that the District panel, chaired by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), could be absorbed by the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior or alternately by the whole committee.
Although the House and Senate have traditionally organized their respective Appropriations panels in a parallel fashion, there are no rules requiring the chambers to do so.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has not indicated whether he will likewise reorder his panel’s subcommittee, but substantial opposition is expected from Senate subcommittee chairmen.