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Peter D. Rosenstein

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District Leaders Should Say No Thanks to Chairman Darryl Issa (R-CA)

Posted: 11/15/11 11:04 AM ET

Darryl Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has proposed a bill for more budget autonomy for the District of Columbia that he claims can pass the Congress. His bill limits the right of the District to spend its own money. I urge the leaders of the District -- Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chair Kwame Brown -- to join together and just say NO to Issa's proposal!

In his stated effort to give the District more budget autonomy, Congressman Issa realigns the District's budget calendar and adds a permanent ban on funding abortions for poor women. One could fairly view this as one small step forward and two huge steps back. This is not acceptable and the city cannot let this bill move forward with their approval if we are to remain consistent in our demand that Congress remove itself from micro-managing the city's business. Last year District officials rightly spoke out against Congress and President Obama for throwing us to the wolves and accepting just this amendment in his agreement with Congress to keep the federal government open.

As a realist and fighter for budget autonomy it is clear we cannot accept this cloudy version of autonomy that comes with such dramatic strings. As a gay man, I would urge rejection of this bill if it were to ban marriage-equality and I know that we wouldn't accept this bill if it were to infringe on the rights of African Americans, Latinos or any other minority. So how can we accept it when it infringes on the rights of women?

Instead of acceptance of half a loaf we must join together and work to inform rational members of Congress why this bill is unacceptable and continue the fight for a bill that grants budget autonomy without strings. We may have to wait longer but it is the right thing to do. Some will say that this amendment will get through anyway -- as it has in the past been attached to something else -- so why not accept it now? The reason to say no now is that we need to stand up for our principles and never be a willing partner to cutting deals that go against our basic morality.

The fight for Statehood and budget and legislative autonomy has been one that we have fought for years through both Democratic and Republican Congresses and Democratic and Republican Presidents. The people of the District have shown they have the fortitude to continue this fight until we win it without agreeing to give up more of our rights. We must demand that our leaders stand strong and lead.

For the first time in years we have a mayor who is willing to not only talk-the-talk but walk-the-walk for independence. He takes every opportunity to speak up and remind people that we in the District don't have full democracy and yet we continue to send our young men and women to fight our country's wars to ensure freedom and democracy for others around the world. I urge him to continue to stand strong for self-determination on this new assault on our rights as a people. Don't be cowed by this effort at compromise, which really is no compromise at all. It doesn't keep future Congresses from adding other strings to our budget or simply rescinding the budget autonomy part and leaving the ban on the use of our local funds for one purpose or another. I urge our Council Chair to understand that he can't act unilaterally on this issue. He cannot, as he has done before on the issue of education vouchers, give a right wing Congress cover while our other leaders are fighting them. This plea is made to the Washington Post editorial board which has done the same in the past.

The people of the District need to stand arm-in-arm as we fight the assault of this Congress on the more than 600,000 people of the District of Columbia. We need to speak with one voice and tell Congress and the president that we will continue our fight for full democracy, but that at a minimum we demand that with the over $5 billion in local taxes we pay into District coffers we have the right to decide how that money is spent.

We must continue our fight for full democracy and demand that we no longer are viewed as a petri dish for experiments that Congresspersons wouldn't dare try to foist on their own constituents.