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Issa Says He’ll Try to Include D.C. Budget Autonomy in CR

Although local officials have set up a pivotal vote in April to advance D.C. budget autonomy, lawmakers could conceivably act on the matter first on Capitol Hill.

In a brief interview with CQ Roll Call, Rep. Darrell Issa said Tuesday that he would advocate for including language unlinking the District’s budget from the congressional appropriations process in any continuing resolution to fund the government through fiscal 2013.

“We expect to have a dusted-off, slightly changed approach ready for the CR,” said the California Republican, who is chairman of the D.C.-focused House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa declined to elaborate, suggesting only that the negotiations won’t really begin until next month. The current stopgap spending measure expires on March 27, and by that time Congress may have agreed on a plan to avert the automatic spending cuts that are set to begin taking effect on March 1.

He also didn’t explain how this new language would pass muster with Republicans who have said they would not sanction budget autonomy for the District without concessions, primarily restrictions on local abortion funding.

Since fall of 2011, Issa has been working to move formal legislation through Congress via either a “clean” bill or one with the bitter pill of policy riders that local leaders, such as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, might agree to swallow as the price of increased financial self-determination.

On Tuesday evening, Norton told CQ Roll Call that Issa was “working independently” on his budget autonomy proposal for the continuing resolution and the Democrat said she was not privy to any of the details.

“We have not discussed that,” she said. “We did discuss today sitting down for a meeting on a number of issues.”

Issa has always worked alone in drafting various incarnations of budget autonomy legislation, Norton said, bringing in local officials for consultation before moving ahead. His ability to use his own time and resources, rather than rely on those of Norton or others, is impressive, she said.

“That gives him credibility, that he does his own work, including his own staff work, on ideas like this,” Norton said.

The current continuing resolution for the first six months of fiscal 2013 was passed on the condition that there would be very few “anomalies” to the current provisions and spending levels already in place in fiscal 2012. As leaders in both chambers busy themselves with legislation to avert the sequester, nobody is speaking yet about what the ground rules might be for additions to the stopgap spending measure that has to be passed at the end of March.

But assuming the next spending bill does contain new line items and provisions, and assuming that Issa is able to get the necessary consensus to shepherd budget autonomy language through in this upcoming legislative vehicle, it is unclear what would happen with the budget autonomy charter referendum that is set to appear on the April 23 D.C. special election ballot.

The D.C. Council voted unanimously late last year to allow voters to amend the city charter to give itself control of its own money. Last month, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics cleared the referendum, championed by local activists, for inclusion on the April 23 ballots.

Advocates say that the grass-roots effort is meant to supplement, not replace, efforts on Capitol Hill to get budget autonomy for the District. They also say, however, that the chances of passing a policy rider-free bill through Congress are growing increasingly dim, and that the Home Rule Charter has no explicit ban on residents giving themselves budget control.

Others, including Issa, Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, are concerned about whether the charter referendum is even legal.

If passed, they say, the charter amendment would more than likely be challenged in court for illegally attempting to circumvent Congress’s inherent control over the D.C. budget, as well as running afoul of the Antideficiency Act that forbids federal entities, such as the federal city of D.C., from spending funds before they are appropriated, in this case by Congress.

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