The indignities heaped upon the District of Columbia by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are piling up, political observers said. The assault against the city’s autonomy began when the GOP, as one of its first orders of business, stripped the District of its vote in the Committee of the Whole. And in one of the latest incidents, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., was barred from testifying on a bill that affects the city.

The measure, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3), would, among other things, prevent the District from using local taxpayer-raised funds to provide abortions for low-income residents. In a Feb. 8 press release Norton said though her request to testify was submitted beforehand, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, denied it.

“Not only do Republicans seek to trample on D.C.’s rights as a self-governing jurisdiction, they apparently seek to trample on my right as a member of Congress to participate in the legislative process by giving testimony on a bill that directly affects the District,” Norton said.

She vowed in a Jan. 31 statement, “We will not stand by while they invade the District’s right to spend our own money in keeping with the needs of our residents.  Otherwise, there will be no end to it.”

Not only was the move unfair, it also went against Congress’ inherent rules of collegial respect, said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Miss., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Norton is a member.

“I am extremely concerned that Congresswoman Norton was shut out of a very important hearing that affects the community in which she represents,” Cleaver said in a statement. “Not only is it unfair, it’s disrespectful and I plan on speaking with Chairman Franks about this matter.”

Mark Plotkin, political commentator for WTOP radio, said while Franks’ decision was in line with the GOP’s stormy history with the District, it still was surprising in its level of disregard. “The Republican Party has a terrible history with the District of Columbia,” Plotkin told the AFRO, pointing to the meager Republican support – 22 votes – for the D.C. Voting Rights Bill. “ this was an extreme example. I was even surprised that they would go so far as to do this …

“Just common decency, you think, would stop them from doing that. But there are no bounds – Republicans are interested in suppressing D.C. in any way they can with few exceptions.”

Several measures introduced by the House Republicans this year threaten to push back the advances toward home rule the District has managed to eke out in the past four years, according to Norton’s office. In addition to revoking the D.C. delegate’s vote, several bills and the fiscal year 2011 spending bill (Continuing Resolution), which was released Feb. 11, would bar the city from using local funds for abortions for low-income women or for its needle-exchange program, and would revoke a previous decision and make the D.C. private schools voucher program permanent.

The GOP assault reflects partisan motives, Plotkin said. “The House Republican leadership is antagonistic to the District because it’s a question, simply, frankly, candidly, of political power.”

Quoting now-deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy, who said the District suffers because it’s “too urban … too liberal … too Democratic … and too Black,” the political analyst said, “You combine these four components and the Republicans don’t feel that helping the District in any way, in terms of political advancement, helps them – and they’re right. But to think that they are so partisan and so dogmatic about depriving and denying 600,000 residents the rights that every other American have … they should be embarrassed. But they get away with it.”

Plotkin said there is too much “passivity and acceptance of the status quo” from D.C. residents, lawmakers and government officials, in referring to what needs to be done to fight back against the GOP House. There is no help in sight from President Obama, who Plotkin said has been “AWOL” on issues concerning the District.

“You’ve got to shame them (GOP lawmakers); you’ve got to embarrass them,” Plotkin said. “ the citizenry isn’t insulted and that’s the problem. This is not Cairo … you don’t see anybody in the street … there’s no civil disobedience.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO