DISTRICT MAYOR Vincent C. Gray (D) plans to lead a contingent from the D.C. Council to New Hampshire this month to lobby for statehood for the District. The much-ballyhooed trip is part of what city officials say will be a nationwide campaign to get states to support expanded rights for the District. But a far more promising use of their time lies closer to home, with the influential head of the House committee on District affairs. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is saying that he is serious about securing budget autonomy for the city.
“The District should be afforded the same control over its money as any other city in America,” said Mr. Issa, expressing confidence that it’s only a matter of time — if not this session, then next — before the measure wins approval. Even though local tax dollars fund the majority of the District’s budget, the Home Rule Act requires Congress to approve the city’s annual spending plan. Not only does this deprive the city of important rights, Mr. Issa noted in a meeting with the Post editorial board, but it delays the budget, puts the city at a disadvantage on Wall Street and entangles the city’s finances with unconnected fights over the federal budget, sometimes accompanied by threats of a government shutdown.
Mr. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, drafted a budget autonomy bill last year but didn’t introduce it at the request of city officials, who objected to a provision to prevent spending local funds to help low-income women pay for abortions. Mr. Issa had said that the provision was a strategic necessity to win support for the proposal; members of his caucus with doubts about budget autonomy might be persuaded by the restrictions on abortion. The fact that Mr. Issa understood — and honored — the city’s objection is a sign of his willingness to work with the District. Mr. Issa also is a supporter of voting rights for the District, although he does not endorse statehood.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) sees budget autonomy as the most important step forward since home rule and, she says, “far more likely than anything else on the table.” Efforts by Mr. Gray to reach out to ranking Republicans are commendable; he recently hosted Mr. Issa and other Republicans at the mayor’s box at Verizon Center to watch the Washington Capitals. But instead of spending time and the city’s money (an estimated $4,000 for the mayor, seven council members and three staff members) on a dubious road trip that is unlikely to produce real results, D.C. officials should focus their energies on getting Congress to make budget autonomy both a priority and a reality this session.