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A sensible approach
(Published March 20, 2006)

Home rule, the cherished American principle of local self-government, has lost considerable ground in the nation's capital in the past decade as Congress and the president have moved repeatedly to retrench the hard-fought gains of more than half a million D.C. residents seeking to assert their rights as U.S. citizens.

Ironically, as last week's action on Capitol Hill pointed up, what is now indisputably the most fiscally irresponsible presidential administration and Congress in the history of the United States continue to dictate how the D.C. government should run the city's local political and financial affairs.

For the fourth time during the Bush administration, Congress last week was forced to raise the nation's debt ceiling to prevent the government's checks from bouncing. The federal government's debt ceiling now stands at $9 trillion, which is $3 trillion more than just five years ago when George W. Bush moved into the White House. As fiscal 2005 ended last September, the national debt totaled about $7.9 trillion.

To demonstrate fiscal prudence, following abundant haranguing over our out-of-control federal debt, Congress almost immediately voted to allow the president to spend even more tax money.

It is in that environment that the District's non-voting delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, with little fanfare last week proposed that Congress eliminate a cumbersome process that requires the D.C. government to drown in paperwork almost any time it needs to create or amend a local law. Norton introduced a bill that would streamline the city's legislative process by removing a requirement for lengthy congressional review before a local law can take effect. The congressional review period, requiring a "layover" of 30 to 60 legislative days, often forces the D.C. City Council to pass three separate pieces of legislation emergency, temporary and permanent to enact routine laws in a timely manner.

Norton's proposal makes perfect sense, with which we hope an often-senseless Congress will expeditiously agree. The simple change in procedure would leave intact the constitutional authority of Congress to intervene in D.C. affairs, which it uses seldom but still too often by amending D.C. appropriations bills or other federal legislation. Yet, the change also would provide a modicum of local control over local affairs that Congress has never allowed since it enacted limited home rule for the nation's capital 30 years ago.

Removing a layer of government paperwork undoubtedly also would relieve D.C. taxpayers of the costs associated with processing and maintaining it.

Reforming management and eliminating unnecessary government costs was mandated by Congress when it imposed a control board on the D.C. government 10 years ago. Norton's bill should be viewed by Congress as a locally conceived effort to continue carrying forward that reform mandate. It deserves speedy congressional consideration and passage.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator