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Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Chairman, I am disappointed in the way this bill has been considered.

Our colleague from Utah, Mr. MATHESON, wanted to offer an amendment that would have canceled the next scheduled co st -of-living increase in our salaries.

I would have voted for that amendment--but under the restrictive procedure under which the bill was considered, it could not even be offered.

In my opinion, it is a serious error for the Republican leadership to prevent the House from even debating and voting on that proposal--especially now, in wartime and a time of serious budget deficits caused by the recent recession, the costs of responding to terrorism and increasing homeland security, and the excessive and unbalanced tax cuts the Bush Administration has pushed through Congress.

That is why I voted to allow the amendment to be considered. Unfortunately, I was in the minority on that vote.

However, despite that, I think the bill itself, while far from perfect, is worth supporting.

The bill provides important resources to help support our Nation's infrastructure, community development, and courts. Examples of this include the $37.0 billion for federal highway programs and $8.5 billion for federal transit programs, which is an increase above the Fiscal Year 2005 allocation and the request made by the Bush Administration.

Further, thanks to adoption of several important amendments, the bill provides much more of the needed funding for Amtrak than the appropriations committee had originally allocated. This is important for Colorado, including many communities in my district as well as other parts of the state.

Additionally, I am pleased the legislation rejects the Bush Administration's ``Strengthening America's Communities Initiative'' that would consolidate a number of quality programs in Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) which provide decent housing and expands economic opportunities to cities and towns throughout Colorado.

Of course, I do not agree with all its priorities included in the legislation. I supported a number of amendments to improve the legislation, and am glad that at least some were adopted, including an increase in the Section 8 Tenant-Based assistance.

I also voted against some amendments, for various reasons.

I voted against an amendment to block enforcement of part of a local law adopted by the District of Columbia City Council dealing with firearms.

I did so because I think its enactment would be an abuse of our authority as Members of Congress and would reduce the right of self-government for one group of Americans--those who reside in Washington, D.C.

It's true the Constitution gives Congress the power ``to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever'' over the District of Columbia--even though the residents of the district are not fully represented in either the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. But Congress, through the Home Rule Act, has authorized the district's residents to elect a city council and mayor with immediate responsibility for governing the city.

I am convinced this was the right thing to do. I support home rule for Washington, D.C. because I think Americans who live in the district deserve to be able to govern themselves as much as possible consistent with the necessary functioning of the federal government. And this amendment flew in the face of that principle.

There is plenty of room to debate whether this D.C. law is good public policy, but I think that debate should not take place in Congress. The law the amendment would override was duly adopted by the elected government of the district and has not interfered with the orderly functioning of the federal government. So, in my opinion, decisions about retaining, amending, or repealing it should be made by the City Council, which is elected by and accountable to the people who are subject to it.

The effect of the amendment would be to substitute the judgment of Congres s for that of the local elected government--in effect denying their constituents the right to govern themselves on this subject. We cannot--and we should not--do that to the residents of Colorado or any other state. I do not think we should do it to the people who live here in Washington, D.C. We may not think this local law is well-designed. But I think we should allow those covered by the law to decide that for themselves.

I also voted against an amendment to block funding to enforce a recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court dealing with the scope of a local government's authority to condemn private property.

I have serious concerns about that decision, but I voted against the amendment because I thought the amendment's approach was not an appropriate way to express those concerns.

If Members of Congress disagree with the Supreme Court's interpretation of a law or of the Constitution, that disagreement can be expressed in a resolution such as the one (H. Res. 340) dealing specifically with the eminent-domain decision. And if a Member thinks stronger action is required, he or she can seek to change the law or amend the Constitution.

But in the absence of such a change in the law or the Constitution, a court's decision--unless and until reversed--is settled law that must be respected, and Congress should not attempt to undermine it or attempt to use the power of the purse to influence the outcome of future cases.

Both those amendments were adopted, to my regret. I think the bill would have been better if they had been rejected. However, on balance, while the bill is not all that I had hoped for I think it deserves approval and I will vote for it.

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