Republicans join forces to free D.C. from Congress

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is no Tom Davis.

Former Rep. Davis, you might recall, carried the District's water in Congress for the decades that he represented Fairfax County. A Republican, though a moderate one in the era when they could survive and thrive, Davis was a true friend of D.C.

McDonnell is conservative on matters of business, crime, social issues such as abortion, and the environment. How then, are we to explain the letter McDonnell sent to Congress on Feb. 9 in support of the District's right to have budget authority over local funds?

Incomprehensible though it might seem, the nation's capital cannot spend funds it collects in taxes from its residents until Congress approves its budget. This congressional oversight is a vestige of the Home Rule Act of 1974, which bestowed limited self-government on D.C.

In venturing into the budget morass, McDonnell is even surpassing superliberal Doug Wilder, Virginia governor in the early 1990s. During his tenure, Wilder didn't support budget authority for D.C. Wilder didn't care much for D.C. or venture our way, except when he came on official business.

In comparison, after sending his letter supporting more Home Rule, McDonnell has cast himself as a friend of the District. Perish the thought!

For decades District leaders have been trying to get Congress to pass a bill giving it authority over its own funds. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced a bill, with few backers. President Obama supports financial freedom for D.C.

Republicans? Not so much.

So it was a "shock," Norton tells me, when California Rep. Darrell Issa held a hearing last fall on D.C. budget autonomy. A conservative with a sharp tongue and no love for Obama, Issa came away in favor of D.C.'s rights and wrote legislation to free D.C. from Congress. His bill has been modified, still has a rider that prohibits D.C. from using local funds for abortions, but he's promised to work "until it becomes law."

McDonnell's letter, sent to Issa and Mayor Vince Gray, was "even more unexpected" than Issa's support, Norton says, "and it's of great significance."

McDonnell is a rising star in the GOP and thought to be vice presidential material. To have a powerful conservative back D.C. budget authority changes the game.

"For the first time," Norton says, "Congress has to look at the impact the District has on the entire capital region." McDonnell isn't talking about the letter, but his central point is that if and when the federal government cannot come to a budget agreement and shuts down, the District shuts down, too, and that would damage Virginians.

Let's be real. McDonnell has little interest in cozying up to D.C. His letter is all business. If D.C. shuts down or suffers because Congress is messing with its budget, Virginia's economy might suffer collateral damage. I say -- whatever it takes.

It's going to take much more than a letter from a Virginia governor to force Congress to take its boot off of D.C.'s budget. But it sure is a big step in the right direction.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Harry Jaffe

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The Washington Examiner