Last weekend Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sat down with We Love DC for conversation over a number of topics particularly focusing on the recent federal budget negotiations and the resulting protests.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is still angry. After weeks of negotiations between the White House and both Congressional Republicans and Democrats over the federal government budget narrowly averted a shutdown, Norton believes the District became a pawn in the negotiations with the inclusion of two policy riders in the budget agreement. These riders banned the District from using local funds to provide abortions primarily for low-income residents and authorized the continuation of the school voucher program which helps pay for private school tuition. “Congress is too busy messing with the DC code,” said Norton.
Norton blames a schism between the White House and House of Representatives Democrats during budget negotiations for the final trade: a lessening of the dollar value of the budget cuts in exchange for changes to policy which included the two District-specific riders. The main goal of Democrats during the negotiations was to “keep health care out of it,” said Norton. She also credits the “expert bargaining of [Speaker of the House John] Boehner” and the lack of bargaining by the Democrats over the 48 votes needed to pass the budget agreement after Republican defections. “The White House had a card and they never played it,” said Norton.
Despite relations with the White House which have been perceived as healthy, Norton acknowledged that “other things have gotten in the way, like the economy,” of a meaningful and productive relationship with the Obama Administration. Norton has been working to improve this relationship by establishing new procedures with the White House to discuss the issues of the District.
For the Congresswoman, compounding the problem of the renewal of the school voucher program is the proposed method to pay for it. With no additional funds in the House Republican’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Resolution to pay for the renewed school voucher program, the budget proposes elimination via means-testing of the funding for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG) program in order to offset the additional cost. DCTAG provides college tuition assistance for District residents in order to simulate the in-state tuition programs of large state university systems throughout the country. Norton worries that elimination of the program will cause families with children to “move out of the District to Maryland or Virginia where they can take advantage of in-state tuition.”
Congresswoman Norton of course is not the only person who is angry. The resulting rally and protest of the budget deal on April 11th led to the arrest of forty-one individuals including DC Mayor Vincent Gray as well as Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells, Sekou Biddle, Michael A. Brown, and Council Chair Kwame Brown and brought additional attention to the issues facing the District. “Arrests are exquisitely important,” said Norton echoing her remembrance and direct involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Norton feels that Congress will not take the issues of the District seriously without the type of vocal protest demonstrated on Constitution Avenue because “these people are not accountable to us.” However the message that she wants to resonate among those considering participation is that all they have to do is “show up.” “DC Vote has done a miraculous job of getting people to show up,” said Norton but “we need a continuing consciousness raising in the city” to continue the momentum of the recent protests.