Campus Notebook: Back to Beginning on D.C. Budget Power

Posted June 27, 2012 at 5:58pm

A day after plans to advance D.C. budget autonomy legislation in the Senate were derailed, stakeholders were looking for other ways to move the bill.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had been scheduled to mark up, among other bills, a measure that would unlink D.C.’s spending from the Congressional appropriations process.

But on Tuesday, after learning that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) planned to offer amendments addressing D.C. gun restrictions and abortion funding, local officials asked that the bill be pulled from Wednesday’s agenda.

“Leadership of the District and their representative in the House, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, decided that given a choice of a D.C. autonomy bill with one of those amendments passed, or not, they would choose not to take the risk,” said Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the bill’s sponsor.

Lieberman was in talks with Paul and other stakeholders late into Tuesday to negotiate a deal in which Paul would be able to offer some amendments — including one that would bar the use of D.C. tax dollars to pay for abortions — but not others, including one to allow D.C. residents to obtain concealed carry permits for firearms.

Paul chose not to relent. Lieberman said he will continue to seek a way to bring the bill before the committee or to the floor “before too long.”

Both chambers have been working for the past several months to come up with language to grant D.C. budget autonomy that is acceptable to enough Members to win passage.

Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. activists and Congressional allies have focused on overcoming what they see as a major hurdle — the reality that policy riders will likely be a part of any deal in order to make it palatable to Republicans, particularly those in the House.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Norton said she was not convinced the battle was over.

“It should … not be surprising that some Senators seized the opportunity to try to deny D.C. residents the final say over their own local funds and laws,” Norton said. “Nevertheless, [Tuesday’s] results will be helpful as we continue to chart a course to budget autonomy this Congress. … We are not deterred.”

A former Member who is considered one of the District’s greatest champions on Capitol Hill said it is a tough call for D.C. officials.

“D.C.’s been unable to take trade-offs, and that has hampered its ability to sometimes cut the deal,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), one-time chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “But that’s a decision the city leaders have to make. I think it’s a very difficult decision for them.”

District’s World War I Memorial Spared

An agreement has been reached to maintain D.C.’s little-known World War I memorial as a local symbol for the capital city’s veterans.

After efforts earlier this year to nationalize the memorial stirred strong feelings on both sides of the issue, lawmakers decided to look elsewhere in the city for a suitable spot to either erect a new memorial or expand another existing structure. One possibility is the sculpture of Gen. John Pershing near the White House.

“I am pleased to see that we may have found a way for future generations to continue to honor their sacrifice,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in a statement.

Cleaver won inclusion of language in a measure by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) that would simultaneously give Kansas City’s World War I memorial “official” status, along with the D.C. memorial.

Poe has maintained that all he and his supporters want is an official World War I
memorial somewhere in the District of Columbia.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) saw the proposal as an usurpation of the city’s monument to its own residents who served in the Great War “built with the blood and treasure of D.C. residents.”

One party is poised to lose under the deal: the World War I Memorial Foundation, an organization run by a half-dozen private citizens that sees the D.C. memorial as the best and perhaps only channel for a national monument.

Edwin Fountain, the foundation’s director, said he doubts a substitute spot could be found and approved before the end of the 112th Congress, and after nearly six years of lobbying, he said the organization might give up.

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