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D.C. wins budget autonomy victory in deal that ends shutdown

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The deal to end the federal government shutdown included a victory for the D.C. government.

The bill signed early Thursday by the president funds the government through Jan. 15, but it allows the District to spend local funds through September.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said he was relieved the city won't have to worry about becoming collateral damage if the government shuts down again.

The shutdown had prevented the D.C. government from spending local tax dollars and the city has been running on emergency funds. Officials said this week that the city had nearly exhausted those funds, but they had identified additional reserve funds.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting congressional representative, says D.C. residents must now move "for full budget autonomy.

"We need all of our funds," Ms. Norton said.

As a federal enclave under congressional control, the city — like the rest of the federal government — lost its ability to authorize new spending Oct. 1.

During the shutdown fight, leaders had managed to win a reprieve from the Republican-controlled House, which passed a bill to let the city spend its own tax funds on services even in the event of a shutdown. But the Senate and President Obama wouldn't accept the legislation, sparking questions from city leaders who usually find more common ground with Democrats at the Capitol than with the GOP.

Two sources said the House bill was being blocked because the White House had issued a veto threat early on and didn't want to be seen relenting.

A voter-approved charter amendment granting the city the authority to spend its own tax dollars without congressional approval is expected to take effect Jan. 1. But some in Congress have questioned whether the referendum is binding, and city officials are still working to get Congress to pass separate permanent budget autonomy legislation so the city won't have to worry about future shutdowns beyond next year.

"About the last thing that Republicans and Democrats in the House needed to be devoting time to is anybody's local budget," Ms. Norton said. "I think that wherever they may stand on budget autonomy, I think they understand that in terms of a national crisis like that, it's not worth the time or the effort to be holding up somebody's local funds."

Carving the District out of future shutdowns had the support of Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican, who was the GOP's key negotiator in trying to push the House bill through the Senate over the past two weeks.

"I would have zero problem with that whatsoever. I think that makes sense," he said before the settlement was reached Wednesday night, adding that he thought there would be widespread support among the rest of the Senate GOP.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House committee with oversight of the District, also was supportive of the city during the shutdown, even attending a bipartisan rally with Ms. Norton at the Capitol last week. His support, Ms. Norton said, signals she is making some headway.

She also said she's making progress with the White House.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the District, supported Ms. Norton's push to pass a D.C.-specific funding bill and said Monday that he thinks "it's wrong for the District of Columbia not to be able to pay its own bills even though they have the money to do so."

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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