Norton Touts 2007 Legislative Progress

Posted January 4, 2008 at 5:50pm

When Congress passed the omnibus appropriations bill last month before heading out of town for the holidays, lawmakers retained much of the funding that had been set aside for District projects in the individual spending bills that had been advancing through the Appropriations committees.

This capped what D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) characterized as a successful year for the city in terms of Congressional action. And the groundwork has been laid for further progress in the second session of the 110th Congress, Norton said.

“D.C. had a lot of successes going well beyond the omnibus,” Norton said. “D.C. got two votes passed in the House — the Committee of the Whole vote returned and the D.C. voting rights bill.”

Norton’s foremost priority, the D.C. voting rights bill, passed the House in April but came three votes short of cloture in the Senate. Norton said she is confident supporters can get three Republicans to change their minds so the bill can pass this session.

In fact, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) is scheduled to appear in New Hampshire on Wednesday to testify in support of a state House resolution chastising the state’s two Republican Senators, Judd Gregg and John Sununu, for voting against cloture.

“Sununu was one of those who’s been targeted, and we thought he was going to vote for the bill,” said Norton, who added that she would be in New Hampshire herself if not for a Congressional trip to the Middle East. “He promised some of the supporters that he’d vote for the bill and he didn’t.”

The Committee of the Whole vote bill that became law allows Norton to vote on amendments on the House floor, though if her vote is decisive it forces a revote. She earned the Committee of the Whole vote during her second term in Congress, but Republicans stripped her of it after coming to power in 1995.

Norton is pushing two other D.C. rights measures that would give the city budget and legislative autonomy. The city’s laws currently are subject to Congressional review, and because the 30- or 60-day review periods are based on legislative days, not calendar days, it can sometimes take a few months for D.C. laws to take effect.

As an example, Norton pointed to Senators holding up a bill authorizing Fenty’s school takeover plan. Such maneuvers illuminate the need for legislative autonomy, she said.

“Congress can’t pretend to know much about the local details of the city,” she said. “Democrats don’t want it. We’ve got bigger fish to fry and don’t want to spend time on it.”

Meanwhile, in the omnibus Norton succeeded in stripping a rule she deemed “pretty unbelievable” that banned D.C. from using public funds for voting rights lobbying and legal efforts.

And some of the funding Norton secured will directly affect Capitol Hill residents and Congressional staff. This includes:

• A $131,000 Economic Development Administration grant to repair Eastern Market after its April fire;

• $500,000 for Union Station expansion;

• $100,000 for the popular Everybody Wins! reading program.

But there was one setback in the spending package. This came when appropriators removed funds for a Homeland Security Department headquarters in Anacostia, which Norton hoped would spark economic development in Ward 8. She said she will continue pushing the project.

“As a public official, I know I owe my constituents an accounting. I do mine annually,” Norton said in a statement. “Now that I am a member of the new majority, inevitably, I must hold myself to higher standards, and I expect D.C. residents will do the same.”