IN THEIR push to repeal a measure giving D.C. the right to spend its own tax dollars, House Republicans repeatedly sounded the argument that the Constitution gives Congress “supreme authority” over the District. They are right about that power. But that doesn’t answer why a party that professes to champion local control and abhor government overreach would choose to undermine self-government in an American city that is home to 700,000 people. The illogic, even by Washington standards, is stunning.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines this week to advance a bill that would nullify budget autonomy for the District. D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved budget autonomy in a 2013 referendum. The measure, though subject to differing legal interpretations, has been upheld in court. Moreover, before it went into effect, Congress had an opportunity to overturn it but instead chose not to act.
None of that, though, matters to House Republicans. Nor, sadly, do any of the sound policy reasons for budget autonomy. Testimony before a House subcommittee by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) carefully laid out the problems that result — from D.C. government shutdowns to delayed spending on critical needs to less advantageous bond ratings — from the city being treated just like a federal agency that has to submit its budget to the president and get it approved by Congress. There are also the facts of the city’s excellent fiscal situation, that Congress has not made changes to the local funds portion of the District’s budget since the financial control board era, that federal funds stay subject to the federal appropriations process and that, even with budget autonomy, the District would still have to transmit the local funds portion of its budget to Congress for a review period, like all other D.C. legislation.
There was little reasoning in Republican arguments to deny the District a right enjoyed by every other American city, not to mention U.S. territories. Instead, we heard ridiculous arguments such as one advanced by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) about how “the people of South Carolina have almost as much vested here as the people who live here.” Mr. Mulvaney’s constituents might care about the upkeep of the Washington Monument, but we sincerely doubt if they give a hoot about garbage pickup in Georgetown or fire response times in Anacostia.
It is expected that the bill blocking autonomy will advance to the full House next week, where it will likely be approved. It is critical that Senate Democrats and President Obama, who has endorsed budget autonomy, stand firm in support of the District.