Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: 'Groundhog Day' for D.C. budget autonomy

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Opinion,Local Editorial

In the 1993 film "Groundhog Day," actor Bill Murray portrayed a self-important TV weatherman in Pittsburgh, forced to cover the annual Punxsutawney Phil event over and over again until he finally re-examines his life. D.C.'s ongoing attempt to gain budget autonomy from Congress uncomfortably resembles the film's time loop, so perhaps city officials should do some re-examining of their own.

In 2009, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Instead of granting budget autonomy to their most loyal jurisdiction, they lifted a decades-long ban on spending local tax dollars on abortions, which the incoming GOP House majority reinstated in 2010. The city's budget situation was exactly the same as before.

In April 2011, while trying to avoid a government shutdown, President Obama and congressional Republicans hammered out a compromise. It allowed the District to spend its own funds without waiting months for congressional approval, after Obama agreed to make the abortion-funding ban permanent. Instead of celebrating, Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council members got themselves arrested during a sit-down protest on Capitol Hill.

In November 2011, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, drafted language exempting cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. But Issa made it clear that this was the only way Republicans in the House would vote for D.C. budget autonomy. Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, R, and D.C. Council member Marion Barry both urged city leaders to embrace the deal, to no avail.

In March 2012, Issa reiterated the need for compromise, while attempts to attach D.C. budget autonomy to must-pass legislation prior to the November election failed, leaving Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton -- who opposes any compromise -- nothing to show for her efforts. This fall, Issa warned that Congress would be too busy dealing with the "fiscal cliff" to do anything about D.C. budget autonomy during the lame-duck session.

Meanwhile, instead of agreeing to the deal that President Obama himself negotiated, self-important D.C. Council members came up with the idea of a referendum to amend the District's home rule charter, thus jeopardizing whatever support they gained with members of Congress who still have the power to reject the outcome.

Since Republicans will still control the House in 2013, any legislation granting D.C. budget autonomy will likely contain policy riders once again. And unless the council bends, it will be "Groundhog Day" all over again.

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