WASHINGTON — Much to the chagrin of statehood advocates, Congress continues to hold a tight grip over the District of Columbia. This manifests itself in many ways, but perhaps in no bigger way than with Congress' ability to block any D.C. law.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz triggered some social media controversy, when he suggested blocking a law passed by the DC Council, which would mandate vaccines for students.
But can Congress really do this? We took the question to the experts.
Can Congress change or block laws passed by the DC Council, and signed by the mayor?
- D.C. Council Website, "D.C. Home Rule"
- ACLU DC, "FAQs on DC Statehood"
- Washington, D.C. Website, "Congressional Intervention"
- John Fortier, The American Enterprise Institute
- David Lublin, American University
Yes, Congress can block D.C. legislation by passing a "disapproval resolution," within 30 or 60 days of the bill passing.
Congress can also pass federal legislation, that could set policy in D.C. Lastly, Congress can include "riders" in the D.C. budget that can change policy.
WHAT WE KNOW:
Sen. Ted Cruz received backlash from many in the District last week, after he suggested that Congress should overturn D.C.'s policy on vaccine mandates for students.
On the Ben Shapiro Show, Cruz said that he planned to introduce legislation that would block this mandate.
The Home Rule Act of 1973 gave D.C. some autonomy, including the ability to elect local leaders. However, this law also outlined that Congress maintains some power.
“Congress of the United States reserves the right at any time, to exercise its constitutional authority as legislature for the District, by enacting legislation for the District on any subject," the Act reads.
David Lublin, a professor at American University, said that this federal control has manifested itself many times over the decades.
"The Constitution quite explicitly lets Congress legislate for the district,” he said.
John Fortier from the American Enterprise Institute agreed.
"There's autonomy for D.C., but it is not full autonomy," he said. "Congress still retains its power in the Constitution, and has carved out some ways in the D.C. Home Rule act for it to act more directly.”
Fortier said that Congress can affect D.C. laws in three big ways: legislation, the budget process, and disapproval resolutions.
Congress has the ability to create legislation for D.C., without any local input. This process would work like any other bill, needing approval in both the House and the Senate, as well as a signature from the president.
Since this follows the typical legislative process, this would need to break the filibuster in the Senate.
“Congress is also able to create its own legislation for D.C.," the D.C. chapter of the ACLU's website says. "Without any input from D.C. residents."
Congress can also make changes to D.C. laws through the budget process. Members of Congress can attach "riders" to the D.C. budget during the Congressional appropriations process.
"Congress attaches riders to D.C.’s budget frequently and annually," ACLU DC says. "Riders have been added to D.C.’s budget every year since Home Rule was established in 1973. In 2001 alone, Congress added 70 riders to the D.C. budget.”
Congress can block D.C. laws through "disapproval resolutions" as well. That's because all D.C. laws have a mandatory Congressional Review period.
"Within 30 or 60 days," Fortier said. "Depending on what kind of law it is, Congress can pass a resolution in the House and the Senate, with the signature of the president to stop the law from going into play.”
According to the ACLU, these disapproval resolutions have been used many times by Congress, to overturn D.C. laws.
“Unlike every other state, D.C. cannot pass its own laws without 'congressional review,' something Congress has used repeatedly to block and override the will of the people in D.C.," the organization's website says.
In order to pass a "disapproval resolution," there would need to be a majority vote in both chambers, as well as a signature from the president.
Since Democrats control the House, the Senate and the presidency, Cruz's legislation would be unlikely to succeed.
"The chances of that happening are nil," Lublin said. "Which sort of indicates that perhaps Senator Cruz is doing this for political purposes.”