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D.C. Election Board Sets Vote for Budget Autonomy Referendum

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Norton has long been a proponent of D.C. budget autonomy, but has expressed some reservations about the referendum on the special election ballot.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in his capacity as chairman of the D.C.-focused Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has become an unlikely champion for the cause, working closely with Norton and the mayor to shepherd budget autonomy legislation through Congress. When Issa endorsed D.C. budget autonomy in the fall of 2011, the movement around the idea spread quickly from one chamber to the other, and even House Republican leadership offered its conditional support.

Norton has argued that the wildfire rapidity of such public reception proves there’s still an opportunity for the realization of budget autonomy in the 113th Congress, especially with Issa opting to move all District matters to the full committee level, rather than relegating them to the docket of a subcommittee.

Others, however, believe that just like in the 112th Congress, there is no way forward for such a bill that doesn’t include policy riders. Over the past year, threats of restrictions on abortion funding and rollbacks of the city’s gun laws have derailed markups and even formal introductions of budget autonomy legislation.

And then there are those who fear the blowback, that Issa’s enthusiasm to help the District could diminish if he felt his efforts were unappreciated on the grass-roots level.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call last month, Issa suggested that the referendum wasn’t offensive to him. He did, however, share concerns about the legality of the initiative and said that it could ultimately hinder his work on behalf of D.C. residents.

“The wishes of the people of the District of Columbia will never alienate me,” Issa said. “It does undermine my ability to get for them what I believe they want ... because if it goes to a court challenge, as I am relatively sure it would, then it ties my hand until that’s over with, and that makes no sense.”

Elections Board Public Information Officer Agnes Moss said officials would be releasing a statement in the coming days to explain the board’s decision to place the referendum on the special election ballot in the midst of strong opinions on all sides of the equation.

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