- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2012

Sen. Joe Lieberman plans to introduce legislation that would grant “budget autonomy” to the District, a key priority for Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other city leaders that would allow them to manage their fiscal year and local dollars without being tethered to congressional approval, a Senate committee aide said Monday.

Word of legislation from the Democratic-controlled Senate arrived as D.C. officials celebrated Emancipation Day — a city holiday that marks the day President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the nation’s capital in 1862 — by arguing it is time for Capitol Hill to recognize the District’s unique fiscal situation.

Mr. Gray and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, are hoping this week to build on momentum toward D.C. budget autonomy that has been gathering among members of Congress in recent months, despite disagreement over legislative riders that imposed restrictions on the District as part of the deal.

An aide to Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said the senator has been a longtime supporter of the District’s quest for budgetary freedom. She could not provide a timeline for the introduction or additional details from the bill, which was first reported Monday by Roll Call newspaper.

The mayor and Mrs. Norton are scheduled to meet with D.C. Vote, a group that advocates for full voting rights in the District, at the United Methodist Building on Maryland Avenue in Northeast on Tuesday morning to tout “Free D.C.’s Budget Advocacy Day,” after which activists and pro bono attorneys are slated to tour congressional offices to promote the passage of a D.C. budget autonomy bill.

Mr. Gray and city leaders are not timid about voicing their concerns on Capitol Hill. In mid-April of last year, Mr. Gray and several D.C. Council members were arrested for blocking traffic on Constitution Avenue during a protest of a short-term federal budget deal that imposed a ban on publicly funded abortions in the District.

D.C. Vote released a poll Monday that says 78 percent of respondents nationwide think Congress should not use the D.C. budget process to push an agenda and that 71 percent believe D.C. officials, and not members of Congress, should decide how local tax dollars are spent.

An Alexandria firm, Purple Insights, conducted the poll April 5-9 by phoning about 1,000 Americans through random-digit dialing technology that reached 757 landlines and 250 cellphone users. The respondents were equally split among men and women.

A slightly larger percentage of Republicans offered responses sympathetic to the District’s self-determination efforts than Democratic respondents, even though D.C. residents overwhelmingly vote Democratic in every election.

In fact, the District has found unlikely allies in two key Virginia Republicans — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Gov. Bob McDonnell. Mr. Cantor has expressed a willingness to work with city officials on budget autonomy, and Mr. McDonnell noted that a federal government shutdown could affect city services and have a detrimental effect on the 100,000 Virginians who commute to jobs in the District.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican with oversight of D.C. affairs, has said he is committed to introducing a clean budget autonomy bill, after city officials rejected a prior proposal because it made permanent the ban on publicly funded abortions in the District.

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