WASHINGTON -- The House committee that oversees the District of Columbia is not expected to survive when congressional leadership shifts to the Republicans next year.
The Committee on the District of Columbia will probably be abolished, and a new subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations may be formed instead to authorize legislation affecting the district, congressional aides said. But nothing has been settled about any legislative panel, and that includes the district committee, aides said.
The current chairman, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., last Friday urged that the full committee be allowed to continue for an unspecified time while the district tries to work out its financial crisis. Stark said in a radio interview that he wants to remain involved in overseeing district affairs. An aide said he expects Stark to seek the ranking minority position on any new panel.
But the membership of a new panel is in question, as is the issue of whether some oversight functions would be dropped even at the subcommittee level, aides said.
In another blow to the, district, the next probable speaker of the House, Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said in a television interview on Sunday that delegates' largely symbolic voting rights in Congress will be "history."
The Democratic delegate from the District of Columbia, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and delegates from U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, will lose their fight to vote in committee, Gingrich said.
Republicans had opposed giving delegates the limited voting rights they were granted in the early 1980s. Like the voting rights themselves, their removal will be largely symbolic because delegates ultimately carried no sway in the full House of Representatives, aides said.
But Norton said yesterday she would fight to retain the vote, which gives "some measure of respect to tax-paying U.S. citizens who are still denied full citizenship." At a news briefing, Norton said she will work with the House leadership no matter who is in power.
Norton also said she spoke with Gingrich yesterday morning, and "there was no suggestion of usurping home rule --just the opposite." Gingrich showed a willingness to "consult and work with me on matters regarding the district," she said.
Norton recently sounded renewed alarm over the district's fiscal condition, saying the district will need to make about $300 million in spending cuts in fiscal 1995 -- $160 million more than the amount mandated by Congress. Norton did not recommend specific cuts, but called for emergency reform to begin even before district council member Marion Barry, a Democrat, takes office on Jan. 2 as the new mayor.
"I don't think this bodes well for the district," an aide to Stark said. The district council, which will continue hearings this week on the district's budget, "is just figuring out they are not going to be able to get the $140 million in cuts" that Congress required as a prerequisite for receiving a meaningful federal payment for fiscal 1996, the aide said. The federal payment for fiscal 1995, which began Oct. 1, was $660 million.
Stark focused his efforts in the fiscal 1995 budget debate on getting Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly "to face reality," the Stark aide said. "Now you are going to have people who are not only going to ... force [the mayor] to face reality, but they will be mean about it," he said.
The Republicans will pursue their political agenda by holding up Barry, an ex-convict, "as a symbol of what's wrong with the Democrats," the Stark aide said. "How Barry handles all of this, we don't know." The Republicans may well force the district "into bankruptcy," the aide said.