WASHINGTON — A House panel on Wednesday advanced legislation that could pave the way for the Washington Commanders’ return to the District and residential and commercial redevelopment at the underused RFK Stadium site.
In a rare show of bipartisanship on a D.C.-centric issue, House Oversight Committee Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly supported a 99-year lease extension from the federal government to the District, advancing the measure 31-9.
It was the latest step in a long saga for Washington football lovers who hope to bring the once storied franchise back from Maryland. And it resulted in the formation of surprising alliances over the question of whether public funds should be used to build an NFL stadium.
“I’m not opposed to the NFL team coming, I’m not opposed to any NFL team coming. I hope that one comes to Washington, D.C. because I think that the nation’s capital should have an NFL team to rally around,” said Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and chair of the House Freedom Caucus who introduced an amendment barring the use of public funds to rebuild a stadium. “I just don’t think the taxpayers should be on the hook for people that can afford to pay for it.”
NFL owners approved the sale of the Commanders for more than $6 billion this year, ending the controversial multi-decade reign of former owner Daniel Snyder, whose alleged sexual misconduct and financial impropriety led to a congressional investigation and a hefty fine from the league. The team’s new principal owner, Josh Harris, is a billionaire who also owns teams in the NBA and NHL.
Liberal stalwart Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who is the committee’s ranking member and has been a vocal supporter of home rule for D.C., embraced Perry’s logic.
“If we’re going to dispose of federal land to a state, a city, a county … for a 99-year period on very favorable terms, then we should not additionally say there can be government financing that goes along with a stadium,” Raskin said.
Oversight Chair James Comer, R-Ky., joined the likes of Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly of Virginia and Dan Goldman of New York in opposing the amendment. Comer argued it could hamstring the District in its attempts to attract the team, while Connolly framed it as a states’ rights issue — or in this case, District’s rights.
“We are now intruding into their finances, their decision-making and their sovereignty,” Connolly said.
The amendment ultimately failed, 13-24, with Raskin and just two other Democrats voting in support alongside Perry and other conservatives members of the committee, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona. Meanwhile, Comer joined a mostly Democratic bloc to spike the proposal.
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