Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jan 2005
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: B01
Copyright: 2005 The Washington Post Company
Author: Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer
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Leaders Kick Off Voting Rights Push

The new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is proposing to
eliminate the D.C. subcommittee, which for more than three decades of
home rule has served as the key panel overseeing the city's finances.

If adopted by the House and Senate, the proposal by Appropriations
Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) could reduce the city's clout and
federal funding but result in less interference from Congress and more
autonomy for locally elected leaders, analysts and lawmakers said.

The District does not have a voting representative in the House or
Senate. But D.C. subcommittees in each chamber give the city a formal
place in the appropriations process, with its own presidential budget
allocation, subcommittee chairman and staff.

Word of the potential shake-up spread yesterday as Sen. Joseph I.
Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) briefed
reporters on attempts to spark a resurgence of city activism for
voting rights in Congress in the new session. Lieberman challenged
President Bush to live up to his second inaugural address's call to
spread freedom worldwide by ending the "outrageous hypocrisy" at home
that denies the District full voting rights.

"In Washington, D.C., the capital of the world's most powerful
country, which in the president's own words delivered in his inaugural
address a week ago stands most of all for freedom and democracy . . .
you cannot cast a vote. That is wrong," said Lieberman, the Democrats'
vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Both Norton and Lieberman noted that more than 1,000 District troops
have fought in Iraq and three have died to secure national elections
in Iraq on Sunday, while they cannot exercise the same right here. The
lawmakers, who reintroduced legislation to expand Congress to include
two senators and a House representative for the District, appeared
with Emory Kosh, 22, a Norton aide and District veteran of the war in
Iraq, and Andy Shallal, 49, an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen who owns two
restaurants in the city and who is eligible to vote for Iraq's
national legislature but not for a congressional representative.

The lofty calls for greater representation were a marked contrast to
gritty negotiations over the congressional reorganization proposal.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay
(R-Tex.) have pressed for consolidating spending power as a new
chairman takes over the Appropriations Committee. Proposed changes
would reduce the panel's subcommittees from 13 to 10.

Incoming Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has not
signed off on any reorganization plan, and talks are continuing.

Norton greeted the proposed change as a boon. The District
subcommittee predates the arrival of home rule in 1971. In recent
years, the city has chafed as Congress has tried to undo the city's
gun control laws and blocked its efforts to legalize marijuana for
medical purposes and to prevent the spread of HIV by distributing free
needles to drug addicts.

"The more people who are going through the District's affairs, the
less self-government we have," said Norton, an eight-term incumbent
who has speaking rights and can vote in committee but not on the
floor. "If you have a committee called 'D.C.,' you invite more
micromanagement of the District."

Other reviews were mixed. Committee officials noted that the District
benefits from special attention from senators and representatives.

"The District has no voting representative. It has the D.C.
appropriations subcommittee. Now it's not going to even have that,"
said one Republican familiar with the proposed changes who spoke on
condition of anonymity because of disagreement with GOP leaders. "What
limited clout the District has in the budget process, it will lose."

Lobbyists for charities and other groups that receive federal grants
through the D.C. budget bill feared losing influence.

Budget restrictions passed each year that prevent the District from
spending money to lobby for voting rights, for example, also might be
tougher to pry away.

When members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Bush in the
Oval Office on Wednesday, the president brushed off Norton's query
about whether he would reconsider his opposition to voting rights for
the District. Norton carried with her a recent editorial cartoon
depicting Bush looking out with binoculars from a White House tower
over the District and the caption, "Scanning the distant horizons
looking for people craving democracy."

"I said: 'Mr. President, leaving aside my own bill, three Republicans
in the House have filed bills looking for D.C. voting representation,"
Norton said. "If any one or combination of them reaches you, would you
. . . sign them?'

"He smiled and moved on to the next person," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake