Two weeks after meeting with Speaker John A. Boehner, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser was back on Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with Democratic leaders and others to discuss D.C. issues, including Metro funding, marijuana legalization and autonomy.
Bowser told CQ Roll Call after her discussion with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the meetings were part of an ongoing effort to foster relationships on Capitol Hill. She also met with Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. and the leaders of the Oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over D.C. “Our focus has been on creating new relationships between the mayor and members of the Congress,” Bowser said. “And so I just wanted to let Leader Pelosi know that our door is open.” Bowser said she asked Pelosi to “keep an eye on” funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s move to the St. Elizabeth’s hospital site in Southeast D.C. They also discussed the District’s marijuana legalization initiative, which faces an uncertain future with GOP opposition in Congress, and funding for the Metro.
When asked what Pelosi said during their discussion of the marijuana initiative, Bowser responded, “Her concern is that residents of the District of Columbia should enjoy the rights that every other American has. And that their elected leaders and voters should pass laws that affect the residents of the District of Columbia, without intrusion by the Congress.”
Bowser also discussed funding for the D.C. Metro system, an issue that came to the forefront this week after the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority released its proposed 2016 budget Monday, revealing that Metro faces a funding gap. In the budget, WMATA proposed a fare increase of up to 10 cents and cuts in late-night services and some bus services to make up for the shortfall.
Following WMATA’s announcement, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she would introduce a bill to restore parity between transit benefits and parking benefits. Norton said a reduction of transit benefits led to a 25 percent decrease in D.C. Metro ridership. On Thursday, Bowser, said she raised the issue with Pelosi.
“The federal government, of course, is a big user of our Metro system,” Bowser said. “Transit parity is one way to get there but ultimately there will be capital needs as well.”
Bowser also discussed the Metro system with leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, which has jurisdiction over D.C. issues. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said their discussion focused mainly on Metro safety. The subcommittee is holding a hearing on Metro safety on Friday.
“I think most of it is really trying to just make sure that the Metro that all of us depend on operates efficiently and safely,” Meadows said. “And [Bowser] did mention that there’s a lot of deferred maintenance that she believes needs to be addressed. And so we’ve agreed to certainly take a real strong look at all of those issues.”
Metro safety issues also made headlines this week, after the National Transportation Safety Board issued “urgent recommendations” Wednesday for improving Metro’s ventilation system following a deadly incident in January when a Metro train stopped inside a tunnel, and passengers were trapped as the train filled with smoke.
Meadows said he, along with Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., also discussed budget autonomy for the District of Columbia with the mayor. Though Meadows said the issue has “not been on my top ten list of things to deal with,” he expressed a desire to ensure that the city functions in cases where the federal appropriations process stalls.
“I shared with her that it’s certainly our desire to make sure that school kids get to go to school regardless of what happens in the federal issues here,” Meadows said.
Meadows also said they briefly discussed the marijuana initiative, and while they did not resolve any differences, the conversations would continue.
“I think that the real difficult thing, with regards to that issue, is you have a mayor who wants to represent the will of the people that elected her. And yet you have a sense of Congress that is contrary to that,” Meadows said. “And where does that leave us? And so, again, we’re going to have to have a number of follow-up conversations.”
Correction, 11 a.m. Friday A previous version of this story stated that Bowser met Thursday with Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. That meeting was actually rescheduled.
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