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Issa’s D.C. Budget Bill Will Keep Policy Riders

Lawmakers on the House panel that oversees the D.C. government quickly and unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that lets the District set its own fiscal calendar and spend locally raised tax dollars without first getting congressional permission.

Introduced Tuesday night by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the budget autonomy proposal comes during a big week for proponents of the cause. A referendum with similar intent survived its 35-day congressional review period with no procedural objections from Capitol Hill. However, one key difference between Issa’s bill and the referendum is the treatment of policy riders.

Both the referendum and Issa’s bill would allow the District to operate on a July-to-June fiscal year, as most other states and localities do, in order to prepare funding in advance of the start of the school year. Under both proposals, D.C. would be free to spend local funds as approved through its own budgeting process.

But Issa’s measure stipulates that any existing funding restrictions approved in the last federal spending bill would still apply to D.C.’s local dollars. Under the referendum, the budget would only be subject to a 30-day congressional review period during which Capitol Hill could disapprove of the budget. By contrast, Issa’s bill mandates that as soon as the next federal spending bill is signed into law, D.C.’s budget would still be subject to policy restrictions.

Republicans have routinely added policy riders to the annual spending bill restricting needle exchanges and spending on abortion.

“The proposal is pretty express to preserve riders on our local budget. … Pretty clear that whatever limitations are put in a given year carry over to next year. Under the referendum that wouldn’t be true,” said DC Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith.

Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad emphasized that the bill and D.C.’s referendum are unrelated and said timing was purely coincidental.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who sits on the Oversight panel, said she supports the intent of Issa’s proposal and has engaged him in discussions about it, but her final backing is “conditioned on an agreement yet to be reached on the final language of the bill,” signaling that policy riders could be an issue.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray issued a statement suggesting the riders could be an issue in future discussions as well.

“I greatly appreciate Chairman Issa’s efforts to accord the residents of the District more control over our financial affairs, and thank him for his persistent efforts on this issue. … We look forward to continuing to work with him as the language of the bill is refined,” Gray said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

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