Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has gone public with his concerns about the District’s planned budget autonomy referendum, saying the vote would set back his own efforts on Capitol Hill to give the city more fiscal freedom.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman had mostly held his fire on the referendum idea, which was approved by the D.C. Council on Wednesday. Under the plan, D.C. residents will vote in April on whether to amend the city charter to give it more freedom to spend its own money without awaiting congressional approval.
But in an interview with Roll Call Wednesday, Issa made clear he believed only Congress can grant such autonomy to the District and that “no referendum can create that.”
“If D.C. residents are being asked to vote on a legal, constitutional question, it isn’t a fair question to place to the people,” Issa said. “They are saying they want it, but it’s a legal decision on whether or not they can have it without congressional action.”
Issa isn’t the only person questioning whether the referendum strategy passes legal muster. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) wrote to the council this week to make clear why he also opposed the plan: He believes it may well be illegal, and he worries that members of Congress may “bristle at this attempt to circumvent their authority.”
Issa said he wasn’t concerned about that so much as the idea that the referendum could delay the entire enterprise, since he has been working to move autonomy legislation through the House. Measures in both the House and Senate have been stalled by lawmakers’ efforts to attach language changing the District’s laws on abortion and other issues.
“The wishes of the people of the District of Columbia will never alienate me,” Issa told Roll Call. “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.”