Eleanor Holmes Norton

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) advocates for the District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

House Republicans turned back a local effort to loosen federal control over the District’s budget on May 25. Lawmakers voted 240 to 179 to approve H.R. 5233, a bill that stipulates that the District does not have the authority to enact changes to the appropriation and budgetary process of the District government.

The hotly debated measure, which now heads to the Senate, would repeal a 2012 District-passed measure called the Local Budget Autonomy Act (LBAA) that reaffirms the city’s authority to pass a budget for its local funds without a Congressional appropriation. The act would allow a city budget to take effect 30 days after its passage, if Congress fails to approve a joint resolution declaring the budget void.

House Republicans said the District act violates the 1973 Home Rule Act as well as the core intent of the U.S. Constitution. “If the bill is implemented, it would allow the District government to appropriate money without the need for any federal action,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said the GOP bill was an effort to stop the District from using local funds for abortions. He accused the city government of running fast and loose with the Constitution. “However, in keeping with Congress’s authority as the supreme legislative body for the District, the way that that money is spent is still subject to congressional approval,” he said.

Local area Democrats in Congress protested the Republican effort to overturn the rights of taxpaying D.C. residents, suggesting that city voters should have the same rights to govern spending as those taxpayers living in states with populations smaller than the District. Supporters of the bill say it will mean the city has lower borrowing costs, more accurate revenue and expenditure forecasts, and improved agency operations. Perhaps, most importantly, it will remove the threat that federal government shutdowns can also shut down the District government.

In March, a D.C. Superior Court Justice sided with city officials, agreeing that D.C. had the right to control local funds. The effort to control local spending without Congressional oversight is part of a larger effort to win statehood for the city.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) spoke in favor of local autonomy and against the GOP legislation, which they said would harm the city’s finances. “This bill manages to be unprincipled and impractical at the same time,” Norton said during a floor debate. “It is profoundly undemocratic for any member of Congress in the 21st century to declare that he has authority over any other jurisdiction except his own.”