Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced legislation giving budget autonomy to the District of Columbia today.
The chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over D.C. affairs, dropped the bill just more than a week after Roll Call first reported such a measure was in the works.
The 11-page bill, which would allow D.C. to set its own fiscal year and control its own budget, is co-sponsored by the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the subcommittee with D.C. oversight.
Currently, the District’s funds are tied up in the Congressional appropriations process, where each threat of a government shutdown due to disagreements over spending deals puts D.C. operations at risk of a citywide halt.
The bill would not completely remove the federal government from the equation, however. As with all D.C. Council-passed bills, Congress would have a window in which to review the budget, during which time it could vote on a “statement of disapproval” that would also have to be signed into law by the president.
This has only happened a few times in history.
“The people of the District of Columbia should not be held hostage to the gyrations of a divided Congress,” Lieberman said in a statement. “Our bill would give the District greater control over its own funds and end the fiscal uncertainty that comes from what have become routine protracted Congressional budget battles.
“This bill is long overdue and would appropriately advance the concept of an independent D.C.,” he added.
Supporters of expanded autonomy for the District say that passage of this bill would be a fitting legacy for Lieberman, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this term. He has long been a champion of D.C., sponsoring legislation on multiple occasions to give the city representation in Congress.
Collins and Akaka also deserve praise, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a statement. “I am deeply appreciative to Senators Lieberman, Collins and Akaka, who have been longtime supporters of D.C. budget autonomy, for introducing the bill at this critical time.”
And true to expectations from D.C. autonomy activists such as DC Vote, the bill is free of riders that are typically included in D.C.-specific legislation to be more palatable to conservative voters.
In the past, provisions to make D.C.’s gun laws less restrictive have derailed legislative attempts to give D.C. more independence.
This round, a ban on local funding for abortions in the District appears to be the major sticking point. The National Right to Life Committee has pledged to oppose any legislation giving D.C. budget autonomy unless it includes language that restricts abortion funding.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.