Pressing Forward on D.C. Democracy

I wanted to give you an update on where things stand with the District’s continuing efforts to implement the budget autonomy charter amendment overwhelmingly ratified by the voters two years ago.

Thanks to Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council, the U.S. Court of Appeals recently vacated the district judge’s decision overturning the voter-approved charter amendment, meaning it is now the law. In accordance with that law, the Council adopted the local budget on two readings, and on Monday, Mayor Bowser returned the act to the Council. Now Chairman Phil Mendelson will transmit the act to Congress, and it will become law automatically unless specifically overturned by both Houses of Congress during a 30-day review period.

Unfortunately, Congress is proceeding to ignore the will of the voters, the charter amendment, the ruling of the Court of Appeals, and the locally-passed budget. It is going forward with adopting its own local budget for the District, just as it has done in the past.

Worse, when that budget goes to the House floor next week, it will include riders prohibiting the District from using its own money to protect against employment discrimination, provide abortion services for low-income residents, and enact marijuana regulations. And there’s a real risk that more riders are to come.

This is a travesty of democracy–and it is happening just after the country celebrated our democracy on July 4. As I wrote in the Huffington Post yesterday, the injustices Congress continually imposes on D.C. residents are the very things that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago. 

Like the signers of the Declaration, District leaders and residents have made repeated appeals to gain greater self-government–specifically, the right to spend their own local dollars according to local determinations.

First they sought congressional legislation giving the District budget autonomy. But Congress showed that it was unable or unwilling to take action, despite bipartisan support. Then they ratified a charter amendment through the local legislative process giving the District budget autonomy–an amendment that is now binding law. But Congress is now simply ignoring that amendment.

District leaders should now redouble their efforts to fight back against this continuing denial of democracy to District residents. And they should use every tool available to them to achieve that democracy. As Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

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