Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama Opens Up to the Capital City

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
On Inauguration Day, the presidential vehicles will sport the D.C. license plate that bears the slogan “Taxation Without Representation.”

“Attaching these plates to the presidential vehicles demonstrates the President’s commitment to the principle of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, Home Rule and budget autonomy for the District,” Maley said.

“The statement is much stronger than just license plates,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray. “It’s clear that they are looking to move forward.”

The most immediate area where Obama could use his leverage would be on budget autonomy, which would unlink the District’s budget from the congressional appropriations process and spare the city the anxiety of a shutdown each time Congress nears a spending deal stalemate.

Thanks in part to champions in Congress such as House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the concept of budget autonomy gained traction over the past year, but efforts to pass a bill were derailed by threats of policy riders.

In April, D.C. voters will weigh in on a budget autonomy charter referendum on a special election ballot, but this local effort could fall victim to a court challenge, punting the issue back to Capitol Hill.

“If he wanted to leave his mark, he would find a very substantial barrier to what we really want, which is the fullest equality with other Americans,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said of Obama. “But I think that there is every reason for him to want to work with us on a strategy for budget autonomy. ... I want the president to leave a legacy.”

Obama has expressed support for D.C. budget autonomy in the past, but so far he has not put significant muscle behind it. Norton acknowledged that she, along with others, was “disappointed” by Obama’s lack of “action” and “boldness” during his first term.

An Issa spokesman said the Oversight and Government Reform Committee had reached out to the administration on a number of local issues over the past two years, but the administration never called back.

Issa’s mentor, former Oversight Chairman Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., wondered whether Obama hadn’t already missed his window to act, which might have come in 2009 when an all-Democratic Congress appeared tantalizingly close to passing a D.C. voting rights bill.

But James Jones, communications director for DC Vote, said what really happens now is going to be wait and see.

“The question is, with so much going on, whether when we really need [Obama] to step up, will he?” Jones said. “I don’t think this statement changes that fundamental question.”

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