DC delegate: Congress has 'killed' with needle exchange prohibition

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Tuesday said the U.S. Congress has "killed" Washington DC residents over the past several years by not allowing them to pay for their own needle exchange programs.

"We have the highest AIDS rate in the United States only because the Congress of the United States has killed -- I used these words advisedly -- killed men, women and children in the District of Columbia by keeping the District for ten years from using needle exchange so that AIDS would spread throughout the city," she said on the House floor. 

The GOP-led House earlier this year approved a bill preventing the needle exchange.

She added that DC has higher AIDS rates than other major U.S. cities "because of the wishes of the Congress of the United States, which is responsive to nobody in the District of Columbia."

Aside from the lack of a needle exchange program, Holmes Norton cited recent House votes to reinstate a school voucher program in the District, and prevent federal funds to DC clinics that provide abortion services. She compared these votes with the work of racist Southern Democrats who wanted to keep control of the D.C. government out of the hands of D.C. residents.

She said that before D.C. home rule was granted in 1974, District residents were ruled by the federal government, and "that was mostly the work of Southern Democrats whose reasons were, among others… most definitely racial," she said.

"What is happening today is not the work of Southern Democrats," Holmes Norton added. "It is the work of the new Republican majority." In an email to The Hill on Wednesday, Holmes Norton's staff said she was not trying to imply that Republicans had racist motivations (an earlier version of this story said she did assign these motivations to the GOP).

She charged Republicans with running an "autocracy," and implied that Republicans do not see D.C. residents as full citizens.

"Who do you think you are?" she asked. "The residents of the District of Columbia are free and equal citizens. We will not be traded off like we were slaves." 

Holmes Norton also warned that DC funding is at risk because the federal government may shut down if no spending deal can be reached for the rest of FY 2011. She said the government is "stupid enough to close down because Republicans won't take the best deal."

-- This post was updated on April 6 to reflect comments from Del. Holmes Norton