CONGRESS HAS a track record of not giving a hoot about the rights of those who live in the District of Columbia. Witness its refusal to give the city voting representation in the House, its serial interference in city laws and its penchant to use the District as a proving ground for ideologically driven legislation that wouldn’t stand a chance anywhere else. Now Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has pointed out that such injustice to the District affects residents of his state, too. Maybe that will move Congress toward needed action.
Mr. McDonnell has reached out to the House Republican leadership in support of legislation that would give the District the ability to manage its own money. In a Feb. 9 letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and to Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Mr. McDonnell said that the District should have the budgetary autonomy that “the governors of every state enjoy.”
Unlike any state or American territory, the District can’t appropriate even local taxpayer dollars until the House and Senate approve its budget and the president signs it. This adds cost and delay. It ensnarls the District when Congress can’t agree on a budget and a federal shutdown is threatened. Curtailment of D.C. services directly affects more than 100,000 Virginians who commute to their jobs in the District, Mr. McDonnell said of the regional ripple effect. “It is in both Virginia’s and Maryland’s best interest that the District be able to operate without interruption, resulting in the financial certainty that will enable long-term planning and better regional cooperation,” he wrote.
Mr. McDonnell’s welcome note of support for the District unfortunately did not include a call to allow budget autonomy without noxious riders that are an obstacle to its approval. D.C. officials rightly rejected an earlier proposal from Mr. Issa for budget autonomy because it included a ban on abortion assistance for low-income women; there also was a threat of assaults on the city’s gun laws and needle-exchange programs.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Cantor e-mailed us that the majority leader is “certainly willing to work with the District toward its goal of budget autonomy . . . and he remains hopeful that there will be more flexibility by the District to find a path forward on this issue.”
That there is growing consensus about budget autonomy making sound fiscal sense for the District and the capital region should argue for the Republican leadership to support a clean bill that would accomplish that worthy goal.