Congress Asserts Fiscal Dominance Over DC, Rebukes Move Toward Statehood

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Congressional Republicans voted Tuesday to ban District lawmakers from spending money without approval from Congress, setting up a legal battle over whether D.C. should have budget autonomy.

The House Oversight Committee voted on partisan lines to reassert their fiscal authority over the city, dealing a blow to the D.C. statehood movement, reports WTOP.

“This is the most significant abuse of congressional authority since the passage of the Home Rule Act in 1973,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting member in Congress, said after the hearing.

The District recently passed a budget autonomy amendment eliminating a measure from the city charter requiring them to wait for congressional approval before spending money from their budget. The amendment says the city can start spending after a 30 day review period upon submission to Congress in which they can only cast an up or down vote approving the budget.

The U.S. District Court struck the amendment down, however the D.C. Superior Court ruled in March the District has a right to spend freely. With Congress rebuking the ruling in the courts, a potential legal battle is brewing in the city.

“The D.C. government’s actions attempt to strip Congress of its Article 1 powers,” Paul Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong, told The Washington Post. “The speaker supports Chairman Meadows’ efforts to show the unlawfulness of the D.C. Budget Autonomy Act.”

Leaders in the District, including Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Mayor Muriel Bowser, are planning a confrontation with the House to bring attention to the battle for D.C. statehood. Bowser calls the disenfranchisement of the District’s 672,000 citizens, many of which are black, the “biggest ongoing voting rights violation,” and notes polls show the vast majority of residents support statehood. (RELATED: Mayor Plans Big Fight With Congress Over DC Statehood)

Budget autonomy is key to their push for statehood. D.C. citizens currently don’t fully control their budget and legislative process, and are denied representation in the Senate. Bowser currently has to propose a budget for approval by the Democrat-dominated D.C. Council, which is then sent to the White House to be appropriated as a federal agency. It is finally approved through a congressional process that gives members the ability to actively change proposals they disagree with before giving the city the green light to spend.

The marijuana ballot initiative passed with roughly 64 percent support, but the legalities of the referendum remain in limbo a year later due to disagreement from Republicans in Congress. Republicans are warning D.C. officials to not take Tuesdays vote lightly, suggesting serious legal consequences.

“Should the District attempt to enforce this act, D.C. employees could face repercussions,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows told The Washington Post. “These employees could be subject to potential administrative penalties and could even be even subject to criminal liabilities.”

D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson said he is unconcerned with Congressional threats, noting the bill will still face a vote on the House floor, in the Senate and would still face a possible presidential veto. Mendelson says until a bill is officially signed into law, he will hold to the favorable court ruling.

“It’s absurd to think that somebody would come in an arrest me,” Mendelson told WAMU. “But if they were to arrest me, I would pull out the Superior Court decision and say, ‘Your honor, a judge said I have to do this and that this is the law.'”

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