Obama speech may ig­nore bud­get is­sue

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY MIKE DEBONIS debon­ism@wash­post.com

The White House de­lighted Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray and other lo­cal of­fi­cials and ac­tivists last month when it an­nounced that the city’s “Tax­a­tion With­out Rep­re­sen­ta­tion” plates would be placed on the pres­i­den­tial mo­tor­cade. But Gray is afraid that Pres­i­dent Obama’s em­brace of the District’s vot­ing-rights cru­sade may end there.

Gray said he thought it was un­likely Obama would in­dulge his fol­low-up re­quest: to men­tion a lo­cal D.C. is­sue in his State of the Union ad­dress Tues­day.

“I had talked to the ad­min­is­tra­tion about putting some­thing about bud­get au­ton­omy in the State of the Union speech, and it has not been well-re­ceived, I can tell you that,” Gray said in an in­ter­view with Washington Post re­porters and edi­tors Thurs­day. “I don’t ex­pect to see any­thing.”

Gray de­clined to iden­tify which ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial he had spo­ken to about the speech.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has pre­vi­ously sup­ported bud­get au­ton­omy — a change to the District char­ter that would give the city greater free­dom to spend lo­cally raised tax dol­lars with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval — by in­sert­ing a state­ment into the last pres­i­den­tial bud­get re­quest.

But Gray ques­tioned the util­ity of Obama mak­ing his feel­ings known only in “a 1,000-page doc­u­ment which no­body reads.”

“That was one of the points I made to them,” he said. “If the pres­i­dent has al­ready said this . . . why don’t you just stand up and say it so the world can hear it? All we’re ask­ing for is the op­por­tu­nity to make de­ci­sions about our own money.”

Sev­eral pres­i­dents, dat­ing to Harry S. Tru­man in 1946, have men­tioned District of Columbia self-gov­er­nance in their yearly ad­dresses to Congress.

Gray said his ad­min­is­tra­tion has en­joyed close work­ing re­la­tion­ships with Obama’s Cab­i­net agen­cies, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to ed­u­ca­tion and trans­porta­tion. But he in­di­cated that he has grown frus­trated with Obama’s re­fusal to be more vo­cal about D.C. democ­racy is­sues — par­tic­u­larly as he en­ters a sec­ond term.

Shortly be­fore tak­ing of­fice in 2009, Obama told Post edi­tors and re­porters that D.C. vot­ing rights “takes on a par­ti­san fla­vor” and that his leg­isla­tive agenda was “chock-full.”

“I un­der­stood in the early go­ing why there was ret­i­cence on cer­tain things,” Gray said, re­fer­ring to Obama’s first-term strug­gles with the econ­omy, health care and other is­sues. “He ought not to have that ret­i­cence at this point.”

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