People For the American Way

Congress Must Respect Local Control for the Residents of Washington, D.C.

People For in Action
Congress Must Respect Local Control for the Residents of Washington, D.C.

Taxation without representation remains the law of the land in our nation’s capital. Washington, D.C. residents have no voting member of Congress, yet they are subject to various forms of federal control, including policy mandates forced on them through the annual appropriations process. While People For the American Way and allied organizations are encouraged that the House draft of this year’s funding bill removes several offending provisions from past years, we will remain vigilant as the process continues. Congress must respect local control in the District. You can download our letter here.

Dear Senators and Representatives:

We, the undersigned organizations, urge the appropriations committees to maintain the District of Columbia FY 2020 Appropriations Bill as introduced. The bill, introduced last night, respects self-governance of the District of Columbia and maintains local control for the residents of Washington, D.C.

Should the bill be amended, we are concerned that the FY20 spending bill will, yet again, attempt to undermine local decisions made by the people of the District of Columbia and their locally elected leadership. These local laws were enacted to address concerns that are important to the more than 700,000 residents who call Washington, D.C. home. When Congress attempts to impose legislative “riders,” they seek to overturn the work of our locally elected officials and ignore the voices of our neighbors. Such riders would have a grave impact on criminal justice reform, local budget control, gun violence prevention, end-of-life medical decisions, and reproductive freedom. These riders usurp the autonomy granted to the District and our elected mayor and council and overstep the original intent of both the creation of the District and the Home Rule Act.

We understand that some in Congress are still seeking to use the appropriations process to impose policy riders upon the people of the District. The undersigned organizations, collectively representing millions of Americans, advocate on diverse issues and are united in our opposition to the inclusion of any language in the appropriations bill that overrides, limits, or otherwise usurps local government decision-making by the District of Columbia.

We also urge Congress to refrain from taking action that could threaten the District’s Local Budget Autonomy Act. The Act allows the District to spend local tax dollars based on the local budget at the beginning of each fiscal year. The D.C. Superior Court has held that the Autonomy Act is valid and the D.C. council and mayor are proceeding with the FY20 local budget in accordance with the law.

Previous appropriations bills have included a provision barring the District from using local funds to provide insurance coverage of abortion care for individuals enrolled in the Medicaid program. While the Hyde Amendment currently restricts the federal funding for abortion care, states are able to use their own funds to cover abortion care for low income individuals. D.C. is the only locality that is restricted by Congress from using its own local funds to ensure equal access to abortion coverage.

Additionally, Congress has interfered with local laws that prevent discrimination based on an individual’s reproductive health decisions. The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act ensures people are not penalized at work for their personal reproductive health care decisions. No employer has the right to know about personal medical decisions, much less act on them. It should not be the business of Congress to overturn local laws that protect local workers.

Further, previous congressional efforts attempted to overturn, and continue to block, voter initiatives to change marijuana laws that were shown to unfairly target minorities. Congress has gone so far as to bar the District from counting votes on a citizen-led initiative. Most recently, an initiative won the support of over 70 percent of District voters. In the end, the process has created a confusing conflict of laws unique to the District allowing for medicinal and personal use of marijuana but not allowing Washington, D.C. to tax and regulate its sale. In short, congressional meddling has kept the sale of marijuana unregulated and uncontrolled.

Each year, D.C. faces the threat of legislation that bars local spending on critically needed HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

Congressional interference into these local matters is unfair and intolerable. It is a gross misinterpretation of both the United States Constitution and the Home Rule Act.

Right now, Americans are debating these and other issues in communities throughout this country. But, what is not up for debate is who gets to decide these questions. D.C.’s locally elected leadership should decide what is best for the people of the District of Columbia. Or, as former Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy said, he “…was not the Mayor of the District of Columbia.”

The mayor and the council of the District of Columbia were elected by D.C. residents to represent our interests. Congress does not impose its views on any other local jurisdiction, and Americans in D.C. have no vote in the Congress to cast against this ongoing, relentless attack on local democracy. Until such time that the residents of the District achieve full equality through statehood, we expect Congress to allow District residents to manage their own affairs without interference or meddling.

We urge the committees to preserve the legislation as introduced and oppose any rollbacks of local autonomy and any other efforts that seek to impose Congress’ views upon D.C. residents.


Abortion, budget, budget autonomy, District of Columbia, Fighting the Right’s Tax and Budget Agenda, HIV/AIDS, home rule, letter, marijuana legalization, policy riders, Promoting Gender Equity, Protecting the Right to Vote, reproductive health care