- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2013

The District has reached the final countdown in its quest for budget autonomy.

Almost over is a waiting period of 35 legislative days during which Congress could attempt to derail a voter-approved charter amendment that lets the city set its own fiscal calendar and spend its own local tax dollars without congressional approval.

As of Monday, the District only has four more legislative days until the conclusion of the review period. To kill the measure, the House and Senate would have to pass a joint disapproval resolution and the president would have to sign it.

Though D.C. voters approved the charter amendment in April, the clock didn’t start ticking until May 8 when the measure was officially submitted to Congress for review, according to James Jones, spokesman for D.C. Vote, which pushed for passage of the measure. Slowing the countdown is the fact that only days that both the House of Representatives and the Senate are in session are included — possibly pushing the end of the review period to July 23, judging by both chambers’ current legislative schedules.

“I don’t think there will be a disapproval resolution again. It’s not going to happen,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s too difficult. You can’t get anything through Congress as it is.”

In the past 40 years, federal lawmakers have enacted only three resolutions to disapprove of D.C. bills — the last in 1991, according to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting congressional representative.

But with a markup for a funding bill scheduled for Wednesday before the House Committee on Appropriations — which has oversight of federal dollars allocated to the District — observers caution that lawmakers could introduce new restrictions pre-empting the budget autonomy measure.

“You never really know what is going to happen in these things,” said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “Anytime you’ve got a markup in Congress, you’ve got a chance.”

Already included in the bill are pre-existing riders that ban the use of federal money on needle-exchange or medical marijuana programs and the spending of local taxpayer money to pay for abortions for low-income women.

The D.C. Council authorized the voter referendum last year after legislative efforts to establish D.C. budget autonomy stalled on Capitol Hill, where a key Republican congressman signaled his willingness to consider the issue.

A budget autonomy bill from Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, suffered a false start in 2011 when members tried to attach a provision to permanently ban the use of local funds for abortions in the District.

In the time since the referendum passed, Mr. Issa and others have voiced concern about to the potential of legal challenges to the charter amendment, and Mr. Issa signaled that he is still considering introduction of legislation to solidify the District’s budget autonomy.

“He remains very supportive of local budget autonomy and is continuing to work with stakeholders on a legislative solution,” said Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Mr. Issa.

Mr. Ribeiro said the D.C. government would still like to see legislation on budget autonomy as a safeguard to any potential challenges the referendum could face down the road.

“It doesn’t hurt, right?” he said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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