GOP amendments scuttle D.C. budget autonomy bill


Under the legislation, the District would be able to spend its funds after the mayor and D.C. Council have agreed on a budget — without congressional approval. (Reuters)
June 26, 2012

Republican-led efforts have scuttled legislation on Capitol Hill that would have allowed the District greater autonomy over its budget — the third defeat of a key city priority in as many years.

Democrats withdrew a Senate bill from committee consideration Tuesday evening after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered a series of amendments to alter D.C. laws on guns, abortion and labor unions.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and strongly supported by city officials, the District would be able to spend its funds after the mayor and D.C. Council have agreed on a budget — without congressional approval. The measure also would allow the city to decide when to begin its fiscal year, rather than conforming to the federal calendar. (Most states begin the fiscal year July 1, making it easier to plan school budgets, while the District’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.)

As recently as November, District officials asked Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to put off consideration of his D.C. autonomy measure because it included a ban on the city spending its money to pay for abortions. And in 2010, Democratic leaders shelved a bill that would have granted the District a voting member of Congress because gun-rights supporters from both parties threatened to attach language loosening the city’s firearms laws.

The Senate measure was expected to be considered Wednesday by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but it was placed in legislative limbo after Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton asked fellow Democrats to pull the bill.


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks during a news conference last summer. (Alex Wong/GETTY IMAGES)

“Senator Paul’s proposed amendments are an insult to the people of our city,” Gray said in a statement e-mailed from China, where he is traveling on a trade mission.

After a brief spate of negotiations between Democrats and Paul’s office, Lieberman shelved the legislation. “It’s unfortunate that D.C.’s right to efficiently and effectively manage its own funds must be tethered to irrelevant abortion and gun issues, but the chairman will continue to work with supporters to achieve D.C. budget autonomy,” said Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats.

One of Paul’s amendments would have required the District to allow residents to obtain concealed weapon permits for handguns, and would require the city to honor permits issued to residents of the states. Another — in response to reports that it is difficult to legally buy a gun in the city — would have required that the District “establish an office for the purpose of facilitating the purchase and registration of firearms by D.C. residents.”

Paul sought to codify the city-funded abortion ban. The prohibition — a continuing source of frustration for District officials that is strongly supported by antiabortion groups — has been extended via appropriations bills every year that Republicans have controlled one or both chambers of Congress since the mid-1990s.

Paul proposed another amendment saying “membership in a labor organization may not be applied as a precondition for employment” in the District, and protecting employees “from discrimination on the basis of their membership status” in a union.

“I think it’s a good way to call attention to some issues that have national implications,” Paul said in an interview. “We don’t have [control] over the states, but we do for D.C.”

Ilir Zherka, the head of the advocacy group DC Vote, took a dim view of Paul’s arguments, noting that the Kentucky senator typically calls for the federal government to restrain its exercise of power — but not in this case.

“We just think that’s stunningly hypocritical of him and deeply offensive,” Zherka said.

The son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), Rand Paul has become popular in his own right within the conservative movement and has been discussed as a possible presidential contender in 2016.

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