Congress's game of charades belittles itself and D.C.

Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

It's spring before a tense presidential election season -- time for Congress to use the District of Columbia to score political points.

This is the time when we denizens of the District are reminded that we do not control our laws or our destiny -- or our tax dollars. Under the Constitution, Congress and the White House make and execute laws that we may or may not want, because the District is, essentially, an arm of the federal government. Our semi-independent government formed by the 1973 Home Rule Act is a charade.

Deal with it.

For proof I take you to Room 2141 in the Rayburn House Office Building on Thursday where Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, held a hearing on his bill that would ban all abortions in D.C. after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The National Right to Life Committee supports the belief that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, and it is pushing legislation nationwide to block it.

Worth a hearing. Worth debate. Worth legislation.

But why doesn't Trent Franks have the stones to introduce his bill for the entire U.S.?

"How irresistible it has been to pick on the District of Columbia and its citizens," D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton writes, "with not one but two bills that the majority dares not try to apply to all citizens of the United States."

Norton was referring to Franks' bill and another that would have banned D.C. from using its local funds on abortions for low-income women. Norton had asked to testify at Thursday's hearing, but Franks went thumbs down. It was a serious slap in the face and an unambiguous show of disrespect. Franks did offer to allow Norton to sit on the dais but not speak. "No thanks," she said, and sat in the audience.

On the firearms front, Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey has offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would express the "sense of Congress" that active-duty military personnel should be exempt from D.C. gun laws while they are in civilian capacity in D.C.

Why? For what purpose? What would that accomplish?

Gingrey writes that his bill would free military personnel from D.C.'s "unconstitutional handgun ban." Actually, the Supreme Court already overturned the ban. Gingrey is merely carrying water for the National Rifle Association and trying to score points for Second Amendment advocates. Fine -- but why not score points in your own district, rather than the District where you are not accountable to the voters?

I suppose we could chalk up the Franks and Gingrey escapades as a charade, as well. Neither the abortion ban nor the firearm amendment have much chance of making it through Congress. But those who vote against the Franks bill may not pass the latest right-to-life "litmus test." And a congressmen voting against Gingrey's amendment can get on an NRA hit list.

Feeling used?

Either way, the process is belittling and fundamentally undemocratic. But that's how our "democracy" works when it comes to the nation's capital.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at

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