From left, Bordallo, Norton and Sablan pose with the flags of the U.S. territories following a news conference.
With conferees looking to wrap up a final fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill this week, Capitol Hill’s non-voting House delegates are fighting for the inclusion of language that would require their flags to be flown on military bases.
They say their success hinges on whether the Senate will consent, given the House’s bipartisan endorsement of the provision for two years running.
The Army is currently the only military branch that requires bases to display the flags of D.C., Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico whenever the 50 state flags are also being flown.
Advocates are now pushing for that standard to be applied across all branches of the military, saying the lack of uniformity is exclusionary, discriminatory and demeaning for the veterans of the District and the territories.
“There are some differences between us and the states, but we have this in common with the states: serving, fighting and dying in our nation’s wars,” Norton said. “We raise the flags of foreign nations to show we respect them. As American citizens, we ask for and we expect no less.”
The House endorsed a remedy for this discrepancy with little controversy in both its fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 defense authorization bills. The language was not included in the Senate’s fiscal 2012 measure, however, and it was left out of the final conference report.
When the Senate passed its fiscal 2013 defense authorization measure earlier this month without the language, advocates sounded the alarm regarding the possibility of another defeat.
Norton said she has been given assurances by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., that he supports the delegates’ campaign and would push for the provision to be included. Bordallo, a member of the conference committee, will also be an ally at the negotiation table.
None of the delegates at Monday’s press conference could say for sure why the language was not supported last year and what opposition could derail it this time around.
Sablan and Del. Donna M.C. Christensen, D-V.I., said recently that senators were concerned about the cost burden for military bases to purchase and fly the additional flags.
A Republican aide with the House Armed Services Committee told CQ Roll Call he understood that the provision was simply not considered a high priority during the fiscal 2012 conference, and that some senators thought it was not an appropriate issue on which to legislate.
Bordallo attributed the challenge to the general lack of awareness about the issue.
“I just guess it caught a lot of people unaware,” she said Monday. “I think this is the reason. They’re not knowledgeable and really didn’t realize that this was happening.”
Norton said that if the provision isn’t included in the final bill this time, lawmakers will have to answer.
“They all know it now,” she said of conferees. “They knew it the time they took [the provision] out and there will be no excuse for taking it out again. And if they do, I think they’re going to have to step forward and say why.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.