A key House committee approved a bill on Wednesday that could pave the way for a new stadium at the old RFK Stadium site — a project that D.C. leaders hope could bring the Washington Commanders back to the District.
The legislation was approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The panel’s chair, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton are co-sponsors of the bill.
Approval by the committee sets up the legislation for a future vote on the House floor.
The legislation would ultimately cede federal control of the land where RFK stadium is located to the D.C. government, with a new 99-year lease.
The debate surrounding the bill and possible amendments touched on issues involving D.C.’s autonomy and what some lawmakers protest as congressional interference.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., had introduced an amendment that would prohibit use of public funds — including federal dollars — related to redevelopment of the stadium site.
“Local and state governments should not be shaken down by corporate interests, in the all too common, crony grifting scheme,” Perry said, noting that the Commanders are said to be worth anywhere from $4 to $6 billion.
Perry said he doesn’t oppose a new stadium; he just wants to make sure that taxpayer funds don’t go toward it.
Before the vote, Democratic lawmakers from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. voiced their opposition, suggesting that the amendment was similar to other efforts proposed by Republicans to intervene in the District’s governmental affairs.
“How D.C. spends its local funds, which consist of local taxes and fees should be a decision for D.C., not Congress,” said Norton.
Her view was shared by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
“I don’t believe that we want to go down the road of dictating to D.C. how it budgets or how it finances projects,” Connolly said.
Comer, who has at times been critical of D.C.’s approach to crime in the city, also said he opposed the amendment.
“It’s the intention of this bill to give the necessary flexibility to the mayor’s office to work out what is the best blend of development on the (RFK) stadium-campus site,” Comer said. “Remember, this is a very vacant property right now.”
Comer said the amendment, in his view, would have limited the District’s ability to finance part of the construction of a stadium or supporting infrastructure — or both.
Perry reiterated during the proceeding that he has no problem with an NFL team returning to the nation’s capital.
“I just don’t think the taxpayers should be on the hook for people who can afford to pay for it,” he said.
Perry’s amendment was defeated on a preliminary voice vote. He requested a recorded vote, where it was also defeated.
A less animated hearing on the stadium legislation took place on Tuesday in the House Natural Resources Committee, which focused primarily on development plans and how parkland and open spaces would be incorporated.
WTOP’s Emily Venesky contributed to this report.