Knollenberg Promises D.C. Will Get Attention
When the House officially ratified its new, streamlined Appropriations subcommittee structure on Tuesday, Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) found himself at the head of a newly minted spending panel that will oversee a mixed bag of funding priorities, some more familiar to him than others.
Lumped into the new subcommittee on the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development are all the appropriations priorities covered by the old subcommittee on the District of Columbia, one of the three House subcommittees cut out to create the new structure.
But Knollenberg said he sees the District’s placement as a good fit for his new subcommittee and since his first cardinalship came in 2001 as the head of the old D.C. subcommittee, he said he’s ready to dive back into District issues.
“I didn’t realize I was going to be back in the saddle so soon,” said Knollenberg, who had been serving as chairman of the subcommittee on military construction prior to the reorganization. “One of the complaints I’ve heard is that since this is going to be a much larger subcommittee [D.C. issues] will be delayed and ignored. … I think the District’s budget deserves attention and I’m going to try to make this transition as seamless as possible.”
Knollenberg, who has opposed both D.C. statehood and voting rights for the District in the past, said he plans to “push closer to the day when [the District] will have more responsibility for [its] own budget.”
He said he’ll try to give the city more budget autonomy wherever possible, but added, “we’re not eliminating oversight.”
If Congress’ “unique” relationship with the District is going to change, Knollenberg said that would be an issue that would have to be studied by more than just his subcommittee, and would probably require a Constitutional amendment.
“The likelihood of that changing soon is dubious,” he said. “Any time you have to toy with the Constitution it’s an uphill battle. … But there’s other things we can do to make sure the city gets the attention it deserves now.”
Knollenberg, who bought a row house on Capitol Hill in 2001, said he has been pleased to see the city’s recent prosperity.
“They are in a stronger position by far than they were in the late ’90s,” when a Congressionally appointed financial control board was put in place to oversee the city’s agencies, he said. Knollenberg pointed to a revamped tax collecting process that is “finding new money” and the new Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team as evidence that the city is getting stronger.
“As I get back into this we’re going to move and promote progress,” he said, but added that “we have to deal with things very cautiously and carefully. I’m willing to promote moves with the proper leadership being provided by the city.”
That leadership will come from several places, perhaps most importantly from the office of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).
“I have always felt we work well together, she communicates openly, likewise with the mayor and chief of police,” Knollenberg said. “We all tend to know each other.”
As Knollenberg prepares to jump back into the swing of things concerning D.C., Norton said she is pleased with where the District has ended up in the House.
“I think both chairmen, [Sen. Thad] Cochran [R-Miss.] and [Rep. Jerry] Lewis [R-Calif.], have been sensitive and fair to the District,” Norton said. “I’m very grateful that the District has not been lost in the shuffle.”
However, before the current House plan came to fruition, it was proposed that the District be placed beneath the umbrella of the Interior subcommittee. This move concerned Norton because she felt it would have “raised real problems” for D.C. But Norton’s concerns have been quelled, and she said she is satisfied with the House decision to place the District under Knollenberg’s watch.
“The most important factor for me and for the District was to do what we could to encourage the District to be placed in an appropriate subcommittee, and we believe that has occurred,” Norton said.
And while the Senate still has not officially settled on whether to restructure its own appropriations panel to match the House’s shuffle, Norton said the apparent decision to keep a separate D.C. panel on the Senate side will be beneficial, as the District of Columbia subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), “has been very helpful to the District.”
DeWine, despite his chairmanship hanging in the balance as the Senate discussed possibly adopting the House plan, has been “tight-lipped” about the situation, according to his press office.
Knollenberg said no matter what the Senate structure looks like, his goal is to produce his Appropriations bill on time and on budget, while working with fellow subcommittee members and District officials.
Sharon Gang, spokeswoman to Mayor Anthony Williams (D), said the mayor was pleased to be working with Knollenberg again.
“Joe Knollenberg is very familiar with D.C. issues,” she said, but added that the mayor is “still very passionate about budget autonomy and is planning to push that wherever the opportunity arises.”
And while the current D.C. City Council will include a number of familiar faces for Knollenberg, he also will have to deal with one councilmember who earned a reputation for his contentious relationships with Congress, former Mayor Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). It was during Barry’s last mayoral term in 1995 that Congress appointed the financial control board.
But Knollenberg said he doesn’t know of any issues that might point to a future conflict with Barry. “Anyone who gets elected to the Council deserves to serve. He has to establish his own pattern on the Council.”