- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Don't expect U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, the new chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia, to act like a 14th member of the D.C. Council by trying to write laws for the city.

Instead, the five-term Michigan Republican is expected to help prevent some of the hated riders social and otherwise from being attached to the congressional appropriations bill for the District.

"We don't want to impose any agenda. We want to develop an agenda and build around some of those things" the city has done itself, Mr. Knollenberg said during a recent interview with The Washington Times.

Citing the leadership of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi as part of the reason the District has bounced back from its financial doldrums, Mr. Knollenberg said his role as chairman will be to encourage their success.

"I'm going to focus, as much as possible, on the things that work," Mr. Knollenberg said during the interview last Thursday.

Steering clear of contrasting himself with his predecessor Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican Mr. Knollenberg said he does not have the same zeal for tacking social riders onto the D.C. appropriations budget.

"My goal is to produce a [budget] bill that … I believe, I hope, is going to be fairly clean, or free, of any restrictive riders that become the substance of debate but they rarely ever settle much," Mr. Knollenberg said, adding that he can't control what the rest of the members in Congress do.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he picked Mr. Knollenberg "to be a steady and strong hand" in charge of the subcommittee.

"He will be very, very positive in his approach but also will be very strong in holding off riders that should not be on that bill," Mr. Young said. "An awful lot of times people try to use that bill as a vehicle for a lot of things that might not even be the business of Congress."

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting representative, described Mr. Knollenberg as a "deep thinker" and a "levelheaded" congressman who understands his new role is to blow the whistle on financial trouble and not play mayor.

"I have had a long and deep conversation with Joe about the District and all of the signs and the signals are … positive," Mrs. Norton said. "[He] is very much of a straight shooter."

For years, D.C. leaders have complained that members of Congress delay passage of the District's appropriations bill by attaching legislation on social issues to it.

"That bill has always been controversial," Mr. Young said. "This is an appropriations bill, not an authorizing bill, and it should be dealt with as a appropriations bill."

Mr. Knollenberg said when it comes to the District, some members of Congress concern themselves with issues that "could be settled by the city leadership itself."

"The federal government, typically, is asked by members of Congress to get involved with problems that may or may not best be the jurisdiction of Congress," Mr. Knollenberg said.

Long known as a fiscal conservative with a distaste for taxes and pork-barrel spending, the former U.S. Army soldier and owner of an insurance company in Troy, Mich., openly boasts that he helped "eliminate 300 [federal] programs."

Reflecting on a conversation he had with former Congressman and Speaker of the House Robert L. Livingston, Louisiana Republican, Mr. Knollenberg said he was told he was serving on the committee not so he could "send more pork back home, but … to send less back home."

Those comments, he realizes, might not settle well with D.C. leaders who say the city needs millions more not less from the federal government.

Mrs. Norton, for instance, is pushing a bill creating a commuter tax credit that could funnel an estimated $400 million a year in federal funds to the District.

It's a bill Mr. Knollenberg is less than thrilled about, although he said he understands the District's needs, but he thinks the city should encourage more economic development opportunities to garner tax revenue.

Mr. Knollenberg said he plans to meet with every city official over the next few months.

Reducing crime, making sure the trash gets picked up and ensuring that the streets are paved, he said, are just a few of the problematic issues the city still needs to be vigilant about.

To show his interest in the "beautiful city" he first saw when flying in during his time in the military, Mr. Knollenberg plans to tour parts of the District to learn more about the city's needs.

He is especially interested in visiting the poorer areas with public housing an issue he tackled during his first two years in the House, when he sponsored a bill requiring decaying public housing buildings to be razed.

"I am going to go out and take a look" at some of the city's public housing, Mr. Knollenberg said, to make sure people aren't living in housing that is "rat-infested, not fit for any beast, let alone a human being."

Mr. Knollenberg the fifth of 13 children and the father of two will pay visits to some of the District's charter schools, which he said have helped improve the lives of the District's youngest.

"The education side is key," Mr. Knollenberg said. "This education thing has all grown within the last three years the charter schools, the scholarship program, luring people back in [to the city] to stay, people who have children."

As chairman of the subcommittee, Mr. Knollenberg will be a negotiator on House-Senate conferences and will preside over a new era for the District, which has experienced its fourth annual balanced budget.

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