President Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to grant D.C. officials the authority to spend city money without approval from Capitol Hill, a gesture that heartened local leaders who have sporadically doubted his commitment to the District.

"The president's historic budget proposal not only amplifies his past public advocacy for D.C. equality, it takes it to an entirely new level," said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Mayor Vincent Gray characterized Obama's move as "a welcome sign of his commitment to the District of Columbia."

The White House tucked Obama's support for D.C. budget autonomy into a provision on page 1,232 of an appendix of the president's proposed $3.8 trillion national budget, but it was the clearest signal to date that the president was prepared to mesh his administration's rhetoric with public policy.

Norton's office said Obama is the first president to couch budget autonomy in legislative language in his proposal to Congress. Previously, Obama and President George W. Bush had employed a more relaxed approach to suggest that Congress adopt such a change.

"This shows that he's willing to take specific action," said James Jones, a spokesman for DC Vote, an advocacy group. "We would rather have action than words."

Although D.C. leaders have occasionally tangled with Obama, Wednesday's budget marked the second time this year that the president has signaled his support for the city.

In January, Obama agreed to change the license plates on the presidential limousine to include the District's "taxation without representation" slogan.

A White House spokesman said then that Obama's decision was a demonstration of his "commitment to the principles of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, home rule and budget autonomy."

Obama's proposal may encounter resistance on Capitol Hill from Republicans who have long been reluctant to weaken Congress' influence over the city.

A top GOP lawmaker said last year, though, that he wants to partner with District officials to craft a budget autonomy proposal, a hint that opposition may be softening.

D.C. voters are slated to consider an amendment to the city's charter on April 23 that would give the District budget autonomy, a gambit that some have said may be illegal.