Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Mayor Vincent Gray’s dream of budget autonomy for the District remains mired in abortion politics. (Ricky Carioti – WASHINGTON POST) There’s a lot of optimism right now that the District could score a big Capitol Hill win, with support building for changes that would allow the District to spend its money without active congressional approval.

An earlier attempt at budget autonomy legislation was derailed when it got caught up in the abortion issue, with House Republicans adding language that would permanently ban the public funding of abortions for low-income women in the city. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and other city leaders rejected the compromise.

Now Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is saying he wants to move the abortion question separately, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has committed to introducing a Senate version of the bill. That led Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to give a half-hour floor speech Thursday heralding an impending new day in District self-governance.

But city leaders shouldn’t get their hopes too far up, because antiabortion forces are not going to be giving the city a pass.

A top official for the National Right to Life Committee, the best-organized antiabortion lobby on the Hill, said the group’s position is that abortion and the District budget are inextricably linked. Thus it opposes any budget autonomy bill that doesn’t include a ban on publicly funded abortions.

Douglas Johnson, the committee’s legislative director, said in an interview Thursday that his group is prepared to “score” any House floor vote on a budget autonomy bill that does not include strong abortion language — “at a minimum, a permanent prohibition on taxpayer-funded abortions in the federal district,” he said.

That means, unless Gray & Co. brook the compromise they previously rejected, they’ll have to get at least a couple dozen of the 235 current members currently boasting perfect antiabortion scores to sacrifice their perfection.

That is, to risk a profound understatement, rather unlikely.

And even if strong abortion language were added to the bill, Johnson said, “we would not say we support the bill, we would not oppose the bill.”

Long story short, unless local officials do a 180 on the abortion compromise, the dream of budget autonomy will have to wait for another Congress.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:20 PM ET, 04/20/2012


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