Obama backs D.C. on budget autonomy
||Washington Examiner (DC)
||Tuesday, February 14, 2012
President Obama included language in his annual budget supporting budget autonomy for the District -- and D.C. leaders are thrilled with the mere mention, even though passage is far from assured.
"That is a huge step forward," Mayor Vincent Gray said. "This would be the most importance advancement for home rule since the Home Rule Act was passed."
District leaders warned in recent years that as the federal government regularly moved to the brink of shutdown, D.C. needed the authority to approve its own budget to avoid shuttering city government. On Monday, Gray said it wasn't fair for D.C. to balance its budget consistently but remain threatened by congressional inaction.
"We've still been subject to the whims of whatever may happen at the federal level," Gray said. "It is time ... that we stop being treated like another federal agency."
Although the White House's endorsement wasn't much -- a paragraph nestled within an appendix that ran 1,472 pages -- it was the latest example of the federal government warming to budget independence.
"The District's local budget should be authorized to take effect without a separate annual federal appropriations bill," the budget said. "The administration will work with Congress and the mayor to pass legislation to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act to provide the District with local budget autonomy."
Obama used similar language in his 2012 budget, though that document lacked a concrete commitment to push legislators for the change.
Obama's urging echoed that of a top congressional Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who drafted legislation granting D.C. the authority to set its own budget.
Issa withdrew his proposal last year after District leaders balked at language that would have restricted abortions.
On Monday, an Issa aide said the congressman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was pleased Obama was joining in his call for a policy change.
"The committee appreciates the administration's support in this effort," Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad told The Washington Examiner.
One D.C. activist warned that even with support from Obama and Issa, District leaders still have a fight ahead.
"Getting it into the president's budget is not enough," said Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote. "We know that people in the Congress strongly oppose any advancements to the District of Columbia toward full citizenship. ... That opposition is strong, and it is consistent."