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‘Small Government’ Republicans Want To Control D.C.’s Budget

The House passed legislation Wednesday afternoon gutting a local ballot measure that would give Washington, D.C. more control over its finances. The vote took place on partisan lines, with Republicans voting for the measure and Democrats voting against it.

“The current D.C. government needs to be reined in,” said House Majority Leader Paul Ryan in a statement highlighting Republican arguments in support of the bill. “We will not allow Congress and the Constitution to be undermined.

“Congress has ultimate authority over the District,” he said, “and efforts to undermine this authority are in violation of the Constitution. There are real consequences.”

Lawmakers had voted 240-179 in favor of a bill that would prevent the District from spending tax dollars without congressional approval. The vote is the latest in a campaign that started in 2012 to give residents of D.C. greater autonomy in how to spend the city’s money, and is part of an effort by Republican congressmen to prevent the District from using local or federal cash to fund abortions or marijuana decriminalization (pot was legalized late last year in D.C.).

While the Republican-controlled Congress says it’s only reining in unconstitutional excesses, D.C.’s non-voting Congressional representative Eleanor Holmes Norton was understandably angered by legislation that nullified the 2012 Budget Autonomy Act, a ballot initiative aimed at giving more power to local government.

“It is profoundly undemocratic for any member of Congress in the 21st century to declare that he has authority over any jurisdiction except his own,” she said during a debate on the House floor.

But House Republicans have argued that the ballot initiative was a clear violation of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, a law passed in 1973 which devolved certain powers, like being able to elect a mayor and city council. But all laws passed by the District’s government had to be reviewed and approved by Congress before being signed into law, including yearly budget plans, hence the Republican bill aimed at overturning the Budget Autonomy Act.

President Obama has said he would veto any legislation that barred D.C. from following through on the overwhelming support the 2012 ballot initiative received from the city’s residents.

“The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 5233, which would repeal the District of Columbia’s Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012,” read a statement of administrative policy sent out yesterday. “The Administration strongly supports home rule for the District and the President has long called for authority allowing the District to spend its own local taxes and other non-Federal funds without congressional approval … If the President were presented with H.R. 5233, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

Prior to the vote, city officials had said they were planning to not submit their budget to Congress, as per the stipulations of the Budget Autonomy Act. Should Paul Ryan have his way, D.C. would be forced to submit its budget for approval, possibly at the cost of programs popular with residents of the District, including providing local funding for abortion access for Medicaid-eligible women, and establishing a regulatory framework for legal marijuana sales.

Photo: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 25, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senate GOP Presidential Hopefuls Take On D.C.

By Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In the course of eight days, two Senate Republicans eyeing the presidency introduced measures to strike down District of Columbia laws, causing local officials and activists to accuse them of using the District for their own political gain.

“I think it’s no accident that both of these senators just before announcing (their interest in running for president), try to use the District as the fallback for their base,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), said in a March 27 phone interview. “It’s not as if we have the right to keep people interfering with our local laws. So why not pick on us?”

On March 18, five days before Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced he was officially running for president, he introduced resolutions of disapproval to strike down two D.C. laws he argues violate religious freedom. Eight days later, on March 26, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill that proposes loosening D.C. gun laws, some of the strictest in the nation, and stripping the D.C. Council of its ability to enact gun legislation. And they are not the only likely Senate GOP presidential candidates who have taken aim at the District. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), unsuccessfully worked to overturn D.C. gun laws in the 113th Congress.

D.C. officials say the actions are an effort by Republicans to boost their national profiles and bolster their conservative credentials ahead of a hotly contested primary.

At-large D.C. Councilwoman Elissa Silverman said on WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” last week the lawmakers are “using our city to score political points for the Republican presidential primaries.”

But Republicans say it is about policy, not politics. When asked to respond to local criticisms last week, Rubio said his bill was about protecting the Constitution.

“I favor local control as well, but local control cannot supersede our Constitution,” Rubio said. “The Second Amendment isn’t an opinion, it’s a constitutional right.”

Sean Spicer, the spokesman for the Republican National Committee, also pushed back against the notion the measures are part of a campaign strategy, pointing to the motives for why they introduced the measures in the first place: protecting religious freedom and the Second Amendment.

“I would take them at their word,” Spicer said. “I don’t agree that it’s a strategy.”

But District officials and activists say the timing and the issues point to political motivations, and note D.C. is an easy target due to congressional oversight over the District.

“To say it’s not a strategy, I think, is almost laughable when you think about the fact that these came back-to-back with two potential candidates and they’re targeting readily identifiable parts of the Republican primary base,” said James Jones of DC Vote, a group advocating for District autonomy.

“The main reason people go after D.C. is because it’s seen as a free shot,” Jones said. “They are not accountable to the people of D.C. The people of D.C. can’t vote them out of office.”

Jones and Norton suggested the senators could also be taking advantage of a common misunderstanding about D.C.’s political status.

“Most Americans don’t know enough about D.C. to realize that they do not have this jurisdiction,” Norton said. They both said understanding that D.C. has a local government, elected by the people, is imperative to understand that, in their view, the Republicans are violating federalist principles.

“Imagine what the tea party would think if they really knew that (the senators) were barging in on a local jurisdiction’s entirely local matter?” Norton asked.

The D.C. delegate said she could not remember a time when presidential contenders actively weighed in on D.C. affairs.

“I never remember that,” Norton said. “I’ve never seen people so hungry for press that they stoop this low. Most people run for president on national issues, even if they’re issues like the ones that these senators have targeted.”

A D.C. government official with presidential campaign experience said the senators could be attempting to set themselves apart from a potentially crowded field of contenders. “I think basically the Republican field is incredibly flat,” the official said, noting there is no clear front-runner. “They’re just trying to differentiate themselves.”

One Senate Republican who recently ran for president said he focused more on national issues when seeking to become commander in chief.

“That was not my top priority.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), told CQ Roll Call on March 26 when asked about the Cruz and Rubio measures targeting D.C. “I thought there were larger issues that I needed to be involved in. If they feel that those issues are important to them, it’s a free country.”

McCain also remarked, “It means they’re not counting on the Washington, D.C., vote.” The District is decidedly Democratic, overwhelmingly handing its three electoral votes to Democratic candidates since it first received electoral votes in 1961.

Asked whether their efforts would help the senators’ national campaigns, McCain said, “Probably. And maybe that’s the purpose. But maybe they ought to make sure that they are driving around Washington in an unmarked car.”

Photo: Jonathon Coleman via Flickr

Weekend Getaways From Cities Around the United States

Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Fall may be getting off to a late start this year, or so it seems in the northeastern United States, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking about cool, crisp air, color-infused falling leaves, a fireplace, some hot chocolate or cider, and the weekend trips out of town that make it all possible.

No matter where you live, weekend getaways abound.

Travel & Leisure has a terrific selection of weekend trips from various metropolitan areas around the country. Here’s a sample of great getaways from all corners of the U.S.

Photo: Doug Kerr via Flickr

Getaways from New York and Boston

Stockbridge Berkshires MA

Antiquing, or just window shopping in the Berkshires will give you a taste of old New England. Shops featuring old timey furniture along with more knick-knacks than you’ll have room to show off dot both towns, village greens, and roadside. Break your shopping with snacks or dinner at an inn and revel in the glorious colors of a New England fall.

Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via Flickr

Getaways from Washington, DC

Blue Ridge Mountains

Head out to the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia on this all-American country road and you’ll discover not only brilliant scenery, but enough relaxed small-town life to keep you satisfied until your next out-of-town trip.

Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr
Getaways from Portland and Seattle

Deschutes National Forest Oregon

If you live in Portland or Seattle it probably goes without saying that you love or at least like the outdoors. Head over to Bend, OR where the Deschutes River and Deschutes National Forest offer an array of land and water-related activities such as fishing, whitewater rafting, and hiking.  And of course no trip to Bend is complete without a few glasses of local Washington wine.

Photo: Doug Kerr via Flickr

Getaways from Chicago

Galena IL Trolley

The small town of Galena, in northwestern Illinois is a tourist mecca precisely because it doesn’t look like one, except for you know, all the tourists. Drawn to everyone’s fantasy of a 19th century, small-town Main Street replete with trolley cars and the requisite shops, weekenders can wander and shop to their heart’s content, take a canoe trip on the river, and discover where our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant lived for two years.

Photo: Tomcio77 via Flickr

Getaways from San Francisco

Anderson Valley CA

Located in Mendocino county–Northern California’s slightly less famous wine country–is the Anderson Valley. Home to some really small towns, you can find great wine of course and some 80 varieties of apples grown directly in the region.

Photo: Jack French via Flickr

Getaways from Denver

Taos Art Gallery Courtyard

Head to the Sangre de Cristo and Taos in New Mexico, where artists have been practicing their craft for more than a century. No car needed here to go from gallery to gallery. Take in a museum, or just stroll along and admire the adobe structures. When you’re tired from all that walking and shopping, you’ll find no shortage of cafes, restaurants, and places to lay your head.

Photo: Terence Faircloth via Flickr

 

China Blasts Proposal To Name D.C. Street For Dissident Liu Xiaobo

By Stuart Leavenworth, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BEIJING — China reacted brusquely Wednesday to a vote in the U.S. Congress that approved renaming a street outside the Chinese embassy in Washington after China’s most famous political prisoner.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, labeled as “purely a farce” the vote by the House Appropriations Committee to name the street for Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu’s crime was gathering signatures for a human rights charter similar to one that helped end communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, angering China’s Communist Party and raising his profile but doing little so far to expedite his release.

In an effort to increase pressure on China, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to a must-pass State Department spending bill that directs the secretary of state to rename the street outside the Chinese embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”

If the full House of Representatives passes the bill, as is expected, and the Senate and President Barack Obama also approve it, the official address of the Chinese embassy would become 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza.

“Every piece of incoming mail to the embassy would bear the name of the imprisoned Nobel laureate,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who proposed the amendment and who’s one of China’s most vehement U.S. critics.

Wolf’s pressure play has been all but ignored by the media in China, where Liu’s name is “sensitive” and largely censored. Among Western experts on China, there’s been a debate on the wisdom of the congressional move, with some seeing it as the latest “tit for tat” that prevents China and United States from fully engaging on issues that divide them.

Supporters note that Congress previously has renamed streets in Washington to honor international defenders of human rights. In 1984, it honored Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov by renaming part of the street in front of the Soviet embassy.

Wolf originally sought his amendment to highlight the 25th anniversary of China’s crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, of which Liu was an enthusiastic participant.

“This modest effort would undoubtedly give hope to the Chinese people who continue to yearn for basic human rights and representative democracy, and would remind their oppressors that they are in fact on the wrong side of history,” Wolf and other members of the House said in support of the amendment.

On Twitter and other social media, commenters have wondered whether China would retaliate by naming a street outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing after a U.S. nemesis, such as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. When asked whether China would respond in such a manner, Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, smiled and dodged the question.

“What kind of measures do you think China should adopt?” she asked. She then issued a broadside against Liu, saying he’s “a criminal who has been sentenced according to law by Chinese judicial authority due to violation of Chinese law.”

Two hours before she spoke, U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus delivered his first substantive speech in China since he took the post earlier this year. Speaking to a Beijing luncheon of U.S. business organizations based in China, Baucus noted the strong economic ties between the countries and the commitment of Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to a “new model” of relations.

Baucus, however, also mentioned two issues that divide the two countries: cyberspying and human rights.

“In the past year, China has arrested several moderate voices who had peacefully advocated for such basic things as good governance and the rights of ethnic minorities and the rule of law,” Baucus said.

While Baucus didn’t name names, it was likely he was referring to Pu Zhiqiang, who was arrested last month, and Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this year. Both were detained on charges similar to those that sent Liu to prison.

Before he became the ambassador, Baucus was a member of Congress for 38 years, including 35 in the Senate. It’s unknown how he views the House’s attempt to rename the street for Liu. According to U.S. embassy staff, the ambassador, after lunching with business leaders, didn’t have time to take questions Wednesday from reporters.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston