D.C. Budget Collision Course Set

Posted June 20, 2012 at 6:12pm

When it comes time to hammer out a final financial services and general government appropriations bill, the House and Senate often butt heads over District of Columbia policy riders involving abortion, guns and needle exchange programs. This year, the battle could be more about money — specifically, the extent to which D.C. can spend money in the event of a federal government shutdown.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in approving its bill to fund the capital city last week, included requested language from President Barack Obama to let D.C. spend its own funds in the event that fiscal 2013 appropriations for the city are not enacted.

The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the bill approved today did not include the provision. Instead, it included language in the committee report accompanying the bill suggesting that lawmakers should find a solution for D.C.’s problem.

“The Committee recognizes the challenges the District would face in the event of a Federal government shutdown [and] believes that District leaders and the congressional committees of jurisdiction should consider possible legislative solutions to address these challenges,” the report reads.

Inclusion of the language doesn’t satisfy supporters of D.C. autonomy, but it does indicate a certain momentum exists in both chambers to do something about unlinking the city’s budget from the Congressional appropriations process.

Optimism about the prospects for budget autonomy legislation might indicate why Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) released a statement praising the House report language rather than saying it wasn’t good enough.

“I am gratified that now all four committees with jurisdiction over the District have recognized the absurdity of shutting down the District government over unrelated federal spending fights,” Norton wrote in a press release, referring to the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees overseeing D.C.’s budget as well as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The fight to keep any abortion rider out of the final version of the financial services appropriations bill is one Norton has pledged to continue — the House bill would bar the city from spending its own money to pay for abortions. The Senate does not include the prohibition, which has been a sticking point in previous spending negotiations.

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) made that point at today’s markup when Democratic appropriator Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to strike the provision.

Removing the ban, Emerson said, could sink the entire bill.

“You want D.C. government to be able to spend local funds  then we have to include language prohibiting funds for abortion,” she warned. “The House will not pass a rule allowing for consideration without it.”

Rep. José Serrano (N.Y.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat, said the issue was not about abortion but about D.C.’s right to self-determination.

“We’re not asking you to vote today on abortion. We’re asking you to vote today on whether you think you were elected to be a member of the city council of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Lee’s amendment was defeated, 21-26.