Norton said she is pleased to hear that members of Congress are open to the concept of greater D.C. autonomy.
“Do I think maybe D.C. could have more autonomy? Maybe,” he said. “But I also know that the Constitution puts D.C. under Congress’ purview, and that we give D.C. money from the rest of the country, from tax receipts. So I think that oversight on the money that we spend, it is incumbent, it’s a responsibility of the Constitution, that we have oversight of the money that we spend from the U.S. Treasury in D.C.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has made the rounds to all the new chairmen and ranking members of House and Senate committees with D.C. jurisdiction, said she isn’t overly concerned with their equivocation because they also signaled an openness to the concept of greater local autonomy.
“When I hear a senator saying he’s of two minds, that’s progress as far as we’re concerned,” Norton said.
But assuming the referendum passes and even if key lawmakers are on board, its chances for survival are not guaranteed. A handful of powerful government officials, including Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, have questioned its constitutionality and warned it could be challenged in the courts.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill could likewise see the charter amendment as unconstitutional, or simply as bypassing the authority given to the Congress to manage some of the affairs of the District. Like all measures passed on the local level, Congress has an opportunity to pass a disapproval resolution within a certain window of time and have that resolution signed by the president. That process is so cumbersome, however, that it’s rarely been employed and in this case Obama would likely not support the effort.
A provision to invalidate the charter amendment entirely could be included as a rider in any must-pass spending bill, which is seen as a more likely workaround. Through this method, Congress was for years able to block D.C. from instituting its medical marijuana program, which it approved overwhelmingly through a ballot initiative.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa has been working to advance D.C. budget autonomy legislation for the past year and a half, but threats of policy riders to restrict local abortion funding have derailed progress along the way.
The California Republican has said he does not believe the charter amendment has legal standing, calling it a “populist vote.”
And while he did not say he would take such action, he did recently allude to Congress’ power to reverse the vote’s outcome, if it wanted to.
“The federal city, should Congress choose, [could] have no mayor, no city council, no budget whatsoever, and at one time that was the case,” Issa said. “Any act of Congress created the opportunity to, and has periodically adjusted, the Home Rule Act. It could evaporate it in one continuing resolution rider.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.