WASHINGTON — District of Columbia leaders have rejected a proposal by a leading House Republican to give the city greater budget autonomy because it also contains language restricting their ability to spend taxpayer dollars on abortion.
The draft bill from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., would let the city spend its local tax dollars without congressional approval. It also would have the district’s fiscal year start in July and prevent the suspension of city services in the event of a federal government shutdown.
Although district residents were given the freedom to elect a mayor and city council in 1973, Congress has the final say over the district’s budget and laws. The budget freedom in Issa’s proposal would have been unprecedented in the home rule era.
By contrast, the restriction on abortion is nothing new. Since 1988, Congress has attached a so-called “rider” to the district’s budget nearly every year banning the use of local tax dollars to fund abortions. The ban was lifted briefly when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress: from 1993-1994 and again in 2009. It was re-imposed in April as part of a budget deal with the new Republican House majority.
Elected leaders in the heavily Democratic city have long bristled under the abortion ban and other attempts by conservatives in Congress to control social policy.
On Wednesday, Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, all Democrats, issued a carefully worded statement opposing the bill but praising Issa for his willingness to grant budget autonomy.
“Despite our opposition to the abortion provision, we believe that the Issa bill demonstrated a good-faith effort that addressed many of our concerns, and deserved the careful investigation and due diligence we tried to give it,” the statement said.
Gray declined an interview request, but his spokeswoman, Linda Wharton Boyd, said it was a tough decision to oppose the bill.
The district leaders said they feared the abortion language would open the door to further amendments that would influence social policy in the district. But they added that they hope the proposal “will serve as a model for how Congress can work collaboratively with the city.”
The rejection by district leaders means the bill likely will be shelved for now, but Issa left the door open for future collaboration. He chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees district government.
“Chairman Issa appreciates the serious consideration D.C. leaders gave this proposal,” said Frederick Hill, an Issa spokesman. “He will continue efforts to work with them on this and other issues affecting our nation’s capital.”