DC autonomy fight, Congressional "meddling" continues

WASHINGTON (WUSA 9) -- It's an old fight with new players. Congress has jurisdiction over the District, with final say on everything from the budget to local laws. Meanwhile, D.C. has no vote in Congress.

As the District continues to push for greater home rule - full control of their own local affairs - some members of Congress continue to dabble in those local affairs.

It has been called "bullying" by Mayor Vincent Gray. D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton referred to the actions by her fellow congressmen as those befitting a "tyrant".

It's the so called "meddling" by Congress in local affairs that has so many in the District crying foul.

"They should have no role," said former D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. "In my view, these Congressmen who include themselves in local matters are just looking for publicity."

Mid-stride in decriminalizing marijuana, the District was recently tripped up by Andy Harris (R-MD) who introduced a bill in Congress prohibiting the District from using taxpayer dollars to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.

"I don't typically get involved in D.C. affairs but this was so egregious," said Rep. Harris.

That prompted the White House to issue this statement:

"The Administration urges the Congress to ... allow D.C. to spend its own local taxes and other non-federal funds without congressional approval."

Congresswoman Norton then tweeted: "POTUS sides with DC and agrees #GOP shouldn't trample home rule with riders attacking our marijuana decrim & abortion laws."

Abortion laws are just one thing on Senator Rand Paul's (R-Kentucky) D.C. radar. He has filed several anti-home-rule amendments, also targeting local spending and loosening local gun laws.

Nickles, who has been pushing for greater overall autonomy for years, said that when he was the District's top attorney, members of Congress "let it be known" that if D.C. wanted to get a vote in Congress, there might be something the District could do.

"Perhaps we might agree to a gun proposal by a far right Congressman who wanted to do away with all our gun regulations," recalled Nickles. "It would be absolutely insane to do away with gun regulations in the nation's capitol. The President, the Congress, the embassies, the protesters here - it makes absolutely no sense."

"It's not their business," said D.C. resident Evan Rosenberg.

Well, technically, it is their business. But the question is, should it be? Most who live in the District agree.

"Whether it's Maryland or Oregon or Ohio or wherever they're from, they should probably focus on their constituents locally," said Chip Gaskins, another D.C. resident.

"Home rule should be for D.C. residents. In Congress, they're loyal to their own districts not the District of Columbia," added Rosenberg.

Central to this home rule fight, is a current battle over budget autonomy that would give the D.C. final say over how taxpayer dollars are spent. The budget autonomy act was passed unanimously by D.C. City Council, overwhelmingly through referendum by the city's citizens and signed by the mayor only to later be stopped by Mayor Gray and Attorney General Irvin Nathan who ultimately thought the measure was unlawful.

In May, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan agreed with them, ruling that D.C. voters do not have the power when it comes to budget autonomy for the city.

Gray described it as a "bittersweet moment" for him as he too has fought for total autonomy for the District but said it needed to happen legally.

The battle over the budget that so many say is key to the overall fight for for District autonomy is now on its way to circuit court.


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