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D.C. Activists: Vote Against Riders Cutting City Authority

A slate of progressive organizations is urging lawmakers to vote against any appropriations package that includes riders to police the way the District of Columbia can use its own funds.

DC Vote, a group that lobbies for expanded D.C. autonomy, sent a letter out this afternoon to all Members of Congress asking for “no” votes.

The text of the nine-bill omnibus appropriations package for fiscal 2012 has not been released, but it appears likely that it will contain language barring local funds from paying for abortions and a needle-exchange program.

Among the letter’s 14 co-signers were the Center for Reproductive Rights, National Network of Abortion Funds and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.

Both riders, the letter reads, would be “an assault on D.C. Home Rule.”

“District of Columbia residents have made it clear: D.C.’s locally-elected leadership should decide what is best for the District,” the letter continues.

Earlier this month, 108 House Democrats sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee chairman and ranking member asking them to put forth an omnibus clean of policy riders that would hinder access to abortions.

“We are counting on those members and others to stand up for the women of the District of Columbia and HIV/Aids prevention programs,” the DC Vote letter says.

Members who had signed the letter to which DC Vote refers were mixed this evening on whether it would prompt them to withhold support for an entire bill that needs to be passed to keep the federal government running.

Appropriator Rep. Jim Moran told Roll Call that he would not let the abortion language be his sticking point in voting for or against the bill.

“If it was the entire bill at stake, I don’t think you can vote against funding the entire federal government over that single issue,” The Virginia Democrat said. “You have to make a judgment call. That would be my judgment call.”

Fellow Appropriations member Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) agreed with Moran, while Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said the rider would make him “not inclined to support it.”

But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said they were on the fence.

“It would cause me to consider whether or not to oppose the bill,” Schakowsky said. “I would have to think long and hard about it.”

DC Vote’s “letter is valid,” Grijalva said. “I think every Member, not only the Progressive Caucus and the 108 Members who signed it, are going to balance that with the need to get something done … but at the same time, you know, we have to be consistent with positions that we took.”

The short-term spending bill enacted in April to fund the government through the end of fiscal 2011 included a provision prohibiting local funds to pay for abortion in the District, and a mass demonstration led to 41 arrests, including the mayor and a handful of D.C. Council members.

There could be similar protests if the fiscal 2012 spending bill contains local policy riders.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is unable to vote on legislation on the House floor, but she is still likely to be vocal in her opposition to riders. On Dec. 1, she sent a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asking them to use their leverage to prevent a D.C. abortion rider’s inclusion in the omnibus.

Norton spokesman Abe Rakov said today that she was continuing to work on removing the provision from the omnibus.

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