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Norton Scores Plum Slot on Highways Panel | District Notebook

More than two decades of work on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has helped earn Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., a plum new assignment in which she will play a major role in rewriting national surface transportation policy.

Norton is taking over as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, eyeing the daunting legislative agenda as an “intellectual and a strategic challenge.” The previous ranking member, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, is taking over as the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee now that Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey has moved to the Senate.

“My experience in a city that has the second-busiest Metro system in the country, I believe, will hold me in good standing in dealing with the public transit part of the jurisdiction,” Norton told CQ Roll Call in an interview, emphasizing her continuing work on commuter-rail safety.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority congratulated Norton on her new position Thursday.

“We look forward to working with her in her new leadership role as we work to ensure the continued funding and policies needed to support the rebuilding of Metro in order to meet the region’s transit needs,” WMATA Public Information Officer Morgan Dye said in a statement.

The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit has responsibility for the development of national surface transportation policy, construction and improvement of highway and transit facilities, implementation of safety and research programs, and regulation of commercial vehicle operations. The District’s roads mostly see commuter and visitor traffic, Norton acknowledged.

She said wants to explore ways to help people spend less time on the road and plans to apply her interest in conservation to the new jurisdiction by exploring technology to promote greater fuel efficiency.

Budget Autonomy Journey Continues

Senate appropriators gave the latest boon to proponents of District budget autonomy on Thursday when they advanced a spending bill that would codify changes approved by 83 percent of D.C. voters in April’s special election.

Language in the Senate Appropriations Committee spending bill, backed by a 16-14 vote, grants D.C. permission to set its own fiscal calendar and spend local taxpayer dollars without waiting for congressional budget approval by amending the Home Rule Act.

It may add constitutional muster to the voter-backed referendum and certainly draws a battle line with the House Appropriations Committee.

The House panel said in the accompanying bill report for the spending bill that funds the District that it “considers the recent referendum in the district as an expression of the opinion of the residents, only” and made no mention of changing the Home Rule Act in its version of the spending bill. That report language, though, does not have the force of law.

Discord on budget autonomy, a clash over levels of federal funding and the long-standing fight about whether D.C. should be allowed to fund abortions for low-income women, will all have to be hammered out when District funding is reconciled.

In the meantime, supporters of abortion rights, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are celebrating. The ACLU released a statement calling the Senate panel’s vote on the bill “encouraging” for not including a provision banning D.C. from using local dollars to fund abortions for low-income women.

Republicans controlling the House Appropriations Committee rejected Democratic amendments to remove the restriction on abortion funding from their bill before approving the measure July 17.

The House and the Senate also disagree on overall federal funding levels.

The Senate’s version recommends nearly $675 million for fiscal 2014, meeting full budget requests for the city’s tuition assistance program and testing and treatment to combat D.C.’s “daunting HIV epidemic,” according to a committee report released with the bill. Requests for both programs were trimmed in half by the House panel.

The Senate also fulfills budget requests for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and its sewer construction program, which was zeroed out in the House’s $636 million District appropriation.

Norton said she “could not be more pleased” to see the Senate approve the necessary funding levels for District programs.

DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry called the Senate action “another positive step in our effort to secure greater self-governance,” and thanked President Barack Obama for including specific language granting the city greater budget control in his proposed budget.