- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council members are taking their time with a proposal from House Republicans that gives the District more control over the city’s budget process, despite an attached ban on locally funded abortions that could have made the offer dead on arrival.

The draft legislation from Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, would allow the District to start its fiscal year on July 1 and begin to spend its own funds without waiting for Congress’ own spending debate.

Yet the groundbreaking offer, which is tempered by the stipulation on abortion, produced an unusually measured response from city leaders who are usually quick to condemn any form of interference from Capitol Hill.

“We have to make sure the District is on the same page,” council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said Tuesday, a day after the draft bill was made public.

Mr. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had signaled in May that he had a plan to give the District greater flexibility in how it spends its own money.

But a prior ban on locally funded abortions tucked into a last-minute spending measure in April outraged city leaders and led to a protest on Capitol Hill at which Mr. Gray and several council members were arrested.

That proposal was part of a temporary spending plan, but Mr. Issa’s provision is part of permanent legislation. Yet outrage has not been as swift this time around.

Mr. Gray, noting the proposal was less than 24 hours old, said Tuesday his staff is “looking at what all of this means.”

“Any statement of analysis at this point would be premature,” he said.

Mr. Gray has scored populist points with his aggressive push for D.C. voting rights and statehood, with budget autonomy playing a key role in that agenda.

“On its face, it’s exciting to recognize that our message on budget autonomy is being heard,” Mr. Gray said Tuesday. “But we’re not absolutely sure yet how far this gets us toward being able to have control of our budget like other states do.”

Some council members declined to comment on the proposal Tuesday, noting it may be unwise to discuss it before the council has a chance to see if it can reach a consensus on the issue.

“There always seems to be a catch,” council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, said. “So we have to understand the catch.”

A spokeswoman for council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said he will rely on his statement from Monday, that “even though Rep. Issa and I do not always agree on everything, I appreciate that he clearly supports giving the District budget autonomy.”

In a similar situation last year, when another congressional proposal required the District to sacrifice control in one area to gain ground in another, at least one council member expressed tangible opposition.

Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, circulated an online petition that opposed legislation that would give the District voting rights in the House of Representatives, yet strip away the city’s right to regulate firearms. House Democrats eventually withdrew that bill, noting the “price was too high.”

Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent who recently spearheaded a new D.C. statehood awareness campaign, said he is pro-choice and has reservations about the proposal, despite his desire to see full budget autonomy.

“I don’t know if I want to put conditions on our independence,” he said.

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