Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
The House Republican Study Committee recently proposed cutting the federal budget by $2.5 trillion dollars. Among programs listed for elimination: General Assistance to the District of Columbia. We find out what that means, and what we can expect when Congress is back in session.
- Daniel Newhauser Staff Reporter CQ Roll Call
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, local crime bloggers, why they do it and the gaps that they fill. When it comes to Congress, what do steroid abuse and baseball, the future of the federal archives and Valerie Plame all have in common with the District budget? They all come under the purview of the same House subcommittee. Yes, the congressional committee charged with approving or cutting our local budget, all this has a lot on its mind. This weekend, an opinion piece by Colbert King in The Washington Post caught my attention. Maybe, it caught yours too. It recounted a meeting between D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and the new speaker of the House, John Boehner, and took Mayor Gray to task for not raising a new Republican threat to the District's budget with the speaker. Daniel Newhauser was not in the room with the mayor and Speaker Boehner, but as a reporter for CQ Roll Call, he does cover the committees we are talking about, and he knows a new era is about to start in the relationship between the District and the Congress. Daniel Newhauser, welcome.
MR. DANIEL NEWHAUSERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMost people who don't live in the District and likely many who do as well don't really understand the financial relationship between D.C. and the federal government. By the way, if you do, you can call us now -- 800-433-8850 -- or go to our website, kojoshow.org, to join this conversation. You can probably help to inform a lot of people. The House committee specifically overseeing the District budget was reorganized recently, and with Republicans taking over the House, it therefore also has a new chair. Can you give us the basics?
NEWHAUSERSure. There's the appropriations subcommittee on financial services and the general government and the new chairwoman is Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican of Missouri. She is taking over for Jose Serrano, who was a Democrat, and he's no longer -- he's staying on as ranking member. But it's interesting about her, because she actually used to live here. She's from here. She grew up here. Her father was a former Republican National Committee chairman.
NNAMDIWell, it is my understanding that because she spent a lot of time here when she was younger or maybe for other reasons, she's not noted as a hardliner in Congress about making policy for D.C.
NEWHAUSERThat's correct. She -- some people might call her a moderate in general.
NNAMDIShe is -- the new chair of the subcommittee is -- no, well, there are five subcommittees, including health care, District of Columbia census and national archives and Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, is the new chair of that subcommittee. What do we know about him?
NEWHAUSERSure. The oversight subcommittee, this was the one that used to be chaired by Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and he wrangled a lot of D.C. vote advocates. Now, Trey Gowdy, he's from South Carolina, was heavily endorsed by the Tea Party. He's a freshman Republican, and honestly, we don't really know what he holds for D.C. A lot of these freshmen don't really know a lot of the issues that have to do with D.C. until they get here. And then, they start looking into them, and it's kinda an open book.
NNAMDIThe ranking member of that subcommittee is Democrat Danny Davis of Illinois, who just withdrew from the race for mayor of Chicago, so he'll probably be able to spend more of his time paying attention to what goes on in D.C. The committee overall, the committee on oversight and government reform is a very strong committee. It's the only committee chairman in the House with the authority to issue subpoenas without a committee vote. Remember, they issue subpoenas on steroid abuse and baseball, CIA and the leak of the Valerie Plame name, FEMA mismanagement and Katrina. Now, the chair of that committee is Representative Darrell Issa of California. He is not known as a friend of the District, is he?
NEWHAUSERI'm not really sure what his views on the District are, whether he's a friend of the District or not, to be honest.
NNAMDII guess, we'll soon be finding out about that.
NEWHAUSERIt would surprise me, though, to see him spend an overwhelming amount of time on District issues, especially because he is spending a lot of time on subpoenaing the executive branch and trying to deal with Barack Obama, TARP, several other things.
NNAMDIYes, he's announced that's what he's gonna be spending a great deal of time doing. In case you have questions or comments about future congressional funding for the District, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Our guest is Daniel Newhauser, staff reporter at CQ Roll Call. In the scheme of things, how much attention do D.C. issues generally get compared to other items on the committee's agenda?
NEWHAUSEROn the subcommittees?
NNAMDIYeah, on the subcommittees.
NEWHAUSERI think that, of course, for District residents, this is something that is a very visible, but around the country, it's not gonna be as visible because people simply don't know the issues that the District deals with. I don't think it's gonna be taking up a terrible amount of time, especially during the Democratic rule of Congress. These issues sort of went through the committees quickly, the appropriations bills, because they were brought under a rule that eliminated the social riders that Republicans had done. Then again, now, if the Republicans decide to bring back those social riders, I think that the battles over these appropriations bills might get a bit more drawn out and a bit more heated, especially if we're talking about funding for abortions, funding for needle exchange programs and the like.
NNAMDIPerry in Northwest, Washington, has a more general question for you. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYWhoa. Thanks a lot, Kojo. Actually I'm calling in, in response to your call for anyone who could explain the relationship between D.C...
PERRY...and Congress. Real brief. Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution -- I believe it's -- I don't know -- clause 17 maybe -- but it talks about Congress having the power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever for the District. And, may by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of congress become the state of the seated government. Now, the biggest part of this relationship which many of us are fighting for, is the voting rights of citizens in D.C. because they differ from others -- in the United States because we are -- we were mandated as the federal state. And so there have been many proposals in order to change that relationship, including returning the District to the state of Maryland, which (unintelligible) wanted to do or making D.C. into a new state, which is a possibility, but not in the 112th Congress.
PERRYSo -- I'm sorry.
NNAMDIThe proposal before the last Congress was to have D.C. have a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. It used to have under Democratic leadership in the House a vote in the committee of the whole. However, since Republicans have come back to the leadership of the House, that has already been revoked.
PERRYAnd that stinks, Kojo, and I just can't see how we have half of, and I say half of Congress, or the greater half in the house could -- can see disenfranchising citizens who pay taxes, who participate in commerce and every other part of America.
NNAMDIBelieve you me Perry, we have had multiple discussions on that topic on this broadcast and on The Politics Hour, which, of course, is tomorrow at noon, but the effect of that on the District's finances is something that I wanted to talk with Daniel Newhauser about. The Colbert King article that I mentioned earlier criticized Mayor Gray for not specifically addressing something called the spending act of 2011, legislation proposed by the Republican Study Committee. Before we get into the details of that proposal, who exactly are the Republican Study Committee, RSC and what is it best known for?
NEWHAUSERWell, the Republican Study Committee is a large group of conservative Republicans, very well known for exerting influence in the Congress, in the House, towards trying to move it towards conservative and especially right now, fiscally conservative measures. Jim Jordan is the chair right now, a Republican of Ohio, and they almost yearly put out a sort of blueprint of how to reduce spending, and this is exactly what they did this year.
NNAMDIThe spending act of 2011 introduced by the Republican Study Committee on January 20th would prohibit so-called unauthorized payments to the District of Columbia. What kinds of payments would be considered unauthorized?
NEWHAUSERWell, this is really interesting, and it kinda goes to the unique relationship the District has with the national government, with the federal government when it comes to spending. This is a proposal that they have actually raised before when Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, was chairman of this Republican Study Committee. Even when Mike Pence who is well known as an advocate of D.C. voting rights was chairman back in -- I believe -- 2005, they had also raised this, and they -- but it didn't get much attention, of course, because Republicans weren't in power of the House.
NEWHAUSERNow, of course, Speaker John Boehner is in power, and this -- it seems they get this from the Congressional Budget Office. Every year or every other year, the Congressional Budget Office puts out a document laying out the pros and cons and certain suggestions for cutting spending. One of them is eliminate general fiscal assistance to the District of Columbia. This is not just unique to this year. They've suggested this -- just about every other year since 1999 as far as I can tell and perhaps even further back. The specific funding were talking about is the kind of funding that...
NNAMDIOkay. Alert. We're entering the weeds here. Go ahead, please.
NEWHAUSERSo the revitalization and self-government improvement act of 1997...
NNAMDIBefore that, we just used to get the special payment to the District.
NEWHAUSERRight. Right. Well, so the District still gets special payments. Now, the special payment, the federal government under the 1997 Revitalization Act said that it would take on payments of the criminal justice courts and correctional systems in the way that a state covers the cost of that for a city. So in essence here, the federal government acts as a state to the District of Columbia. However, the District still has to get its budget reviewed by Congress. So once the mayor and the council puts together a budget, they send it to the president, and that's where they request these special funds, which include the court payments. But it also includes things like the resident tuition assistance, of course, defrays the cost of out-of-state tuition for residents of the District. It also includes last year HIV-AIDS funding. We've got water and sewer funding.
NNAMDISo if there has been a recommendation from the Congressional Budget Office that in order to reduce spending that kind of funding be cut. It's likely that we're likely to see cuts in that kind of spending.
NEWHAUSERNo. I don't think so.
NEWHAUSERThey -- the Congressional Budget Office makes all manners of recommendations, and they lay out the pros and cons, like I said being a nonpartisan agency. They say that the rationale for this option is that the federal government already relieved the District of the cost of a lot of its budget because of this 1997 Revitalization Act, including Medicaid pensions, and so this is a tradeoff. We're assuming that responsibility, but they say that against the argument is that the D.C. doesn't have a lot of alternative sources of revenue. They can't tax commuters. They can't, of course, tax the federal government for having -- for doing business in the city that the way other cities might be able to tax businesses. And also, they say public education, water and sewers, roads and bridges, and all those things are kinda in dire straits in the city, these cuts would not be so good for them. But nonetheless, the Republican Study Committee, among other ideas, which include something that you would probably be interested in; cutting the Corporation for Public Broadcasting…
NEWHAUSER…the National Endowment for the Arts included this suggestion in their Spending Reduction Act.
NNAMDIIn his column, Colbert King says, if approved, that action would bring the financially-strapped nation's capital to its knees. What indications do we have from, a financial standpoint, that that is likely to happen? What does bringing it to its knees mean in that context?
NEWHAUSERWell, first of all, it should be noted that it's kind of unlikely that this would actually happen. The House Republican leadership hasn't endorsed this proposal, although the Republican Study Committee is a large number of Republicans in the House. Secondly, you've got to remember, there's a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President. Even if something like this passed the House, you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody in this town who thinks that the Senate would pass such a comprehensive Spending Reduction Act. And, even so, would the president sign it? That -- you know, a lot of people would say no.
NNAMDIHere's Ralph in Washington, D.C. Ralph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RALPHHi, Kojo. You know, sometimes I just get tired of the lamenting about how bad D.C. has gotten. We have the highest paid council in the country for a part-time council, and those guys are gouging on the side on law fees. You know, we've got one councilmember who can't manage his own budget. He just got elected, and he's got a huge debt. You might as well put a for sale sign on that guy's forehead. If you calculate the number of city workers that we have, we have four times as many city workers as the city of Chicago per capita, including state workers. And we have the richest city in the country. We -- you know, we pay the most, per capita, of any state in the union, virtually any city in the union for education, yet we have the lowest scores of any state in the union.
RALPHSo if we get statehood, we'll be behind Alabama and Georgia and everything else, yet we pay three times as much per capita for education. So we're getting all these excuses that, you know, we have incredible suffering, and we got something completely unique to anybody else. What I want to see is I want to see the council go in there, do their job, which they’re overpaid for, manage this city, get rid of the workers that don't work. If you've ever tried to get something done in this city, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
NNAMDIWell, I'm sure a lot of other people would like to see that also, Ralph. But would you like to see the federal government force the city to do whatever it is that the members of Congress want the city to do? Would you approve of them doing the same thing to Chicago or some of the states you mentioned, Alabama, Mississippi?
RALPHWell, the problem is, you know, the District of Columbia laments about all the costs that they have, but what they forget to say is that we have high restaurant taxes. We have high parking taxes. We have taxes on people who come here for our services that would never be here without the federal government. And I got news for you. If the federal government wasn't here, this city would dry up like a pimple, and just flick off the face of the Earth. You know, what you're talking about is just a portion...
NNAMDIBut wait a minute. I do understand your complaints, Ralph, but you say all that to say what?
RALPHI say all that to say get my councilmembers to do their job, to balance our budget, to get rid of the...
NNAMDIRalph, you're the one who has to vote for those councilmembers, whether they seek office -- when they seek office. You have at least, at that level, the ability to decide who your councilmember is going to be. But I'm afraid we're running out of time. Daniel Newhauser, any comment at all on what Ralph has been ranting about? (laugh)
NEWHAUSERWell, I guess the trade off is, of course, the federal government does bring several industry here but, also, because the federal government is here, the District is precluded from having the kind of tax structure that other states do. And so...
NNAMDICan't have a commuter tax, can't have a variety of taxes and so that's a significant part of the debate. We're just about out of time. Daniel Newhauser, thank you so much for joining us.
NEWHAUSERThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDII'll let the record show that Daniel Newhauser and his friends have promised to provide me with free beer indefinitely, and that was after he was invited on the show. So it's not technically a bribe. Gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll take at what -- a look at what local crime bloggers are doing and the balance they have to strike. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Facing Calls For Dismissal, Prince George’s Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell Attends To Crisis Of Confidence
An investigation into Prince George's County Public Schools last fall found inflated graduation rates, too many excused absences and overly lax grading. How will the county fix its school's problems?
We check in with D.C.'s police chief to discuss his first year of policing the nation's capital.
80 degree days, windstorms, floods, droughts and bomb cyclones. We're all coping with a changing climate, but what happens when your livelihood depends on the weather?