Policy

House Passes Bill Stripping DC of Budget Control

Republicans also slip ban language into appropriations bill

North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows fought to ban the D.C. Budget Autonomy Act arguing the local law was illegal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans passed a bill Wednesday that strips the District of Columbia of any autonomy over how it spends its own money.  

The measure, which passed 240-179, seeks to overturn a local law passed by D.C. officials and affirmed by voters in a referendum allowing the city to control how it spends money it raises through its taxes. The House measure also spelled out that all city funding is subject to Congress’s annual appropriations process.  

[ DC Budget Autonomy Ban Clears House Committee ]

But the debate over the D.C. Budget Autonomy Act isn’t expected to clear a more closely divided Senate, and it faces the threat of a veto by President Barack Obama.  

Still, Republicans in the GOP-led House chamber are so determined to keep their grip on the city’s finances that they slipped similar language into the draft of an appropriations bill marked up Wednesday.  

[ Bowser, Council Score D.C. Budget Autonomy Victory ]

At the same time, the North Carolina Republican leading the charge suggested the language can be inserted into a “must pass” resolution to keep the government funded even if Congress doesn’t pass a budget.  

While playing down a Superior Court decision that upheld the act, Rep. Mark Meadows, who sponsored the ban bill, reiterated his stance that the act would "usurp" congressional authority and that he believed the act was “null and void.” He further made his case that a local government could not decide what powers Congress may or may not hold.  

[ DC Budget Autonomy Rules is Just Beginning of Local Control Fight ]

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton gave another impassioned speech, in which she blasted Republicans for going against one of its own core values: Giving a local government the chance to run itself.  

“These are the same friends that despise the federal reach,” Norton said.  

On Tuesday, the White House expressed its strong opposition to a ban on budget autonomy and threatened to veto such a measure if it reached President Barack Obama's desk.  

"Such authority is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy, and the Congress denying the District this authority is an affront to the residents and elected leaders of the District," a White House statement read. Holmes Norton said after the votes she expects the District to move ahead on enforcing its own budget while the federal government’s appropriations process drags on until October.  

She said she suspected the reason Republicans may be working quickly on the effort traces back to Speaker Paul D. Ryan's desire to show that his party can move forward quickly on legislation.  

“Otherwise this really seems to be a piling on you would think unnecessary,” Holmes Norton said after the vote.  

On Tuesday, Ryan, R-Wis., weighed in on the issue once more.  

In a blog post, Ryan wrote that the capital city was “running fast and loose with the Constitution” and that the current D.C. government “needs to be reined in.”  

“From where?” responded House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on the House floor. Hoyer called the Republican effort “an exercise in hypocrisy.”  

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., offered a last-minute amendment that would have allowed the district to spend money fighting the Zika virus without congressional approval and would have sent the bill back to committee.  

While the intent was to hold up a bill he opposed, Connolly said he was trying to make another point.  

“It was to expose, in a sense, just how hell-bent they are on putting the screws on the District of Columbia,” Connolly said after his amendment was deleted. “That’s how rigid and ideological they are in their approach.”  

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