Advocates for the District of Columbia visited the Senate Tuesday to lobby lawmakers against including restrictions on funding for the city in any final budget deal.
Negotiators from the House, Senate and White House are deep in talks on a funding resolution that would keep the federal government open through the end of September. The version of the spending measure passed by the House in February includes several provisions directly affecting D.C., including an $80 million reduction in the District’s budget for courts, schools and other programs and a $150 million cut to the Metro system’s budget for capital projects.
The House measure would also reimpose restrictions — put in place by past Republican majorities — preventing the District from spending its own money on needle-exchange programs and abortions for low-income women.
With so much on the line for the city, the advocacy group DC Vote brought several dozen activists to the Hill Tuesday, sending them to every senator’s office and holding meetings with the staffs of roughly 30 senators to discuss the ongoing budget negotiations.
“The impression that we’re getting from people is that the D.C. riders have not broken to the surface yet,” said DC Vote head Ilir Zherka.
While the Metro cuts and some other provisions are concerns, the social policy riders have long been a sticking point between Congress and the District, and so were the primary focus of DC Vote’s efforts.
“We’ve spent most of our time talking about abortions and needle-exchange,” Zherka said.
The District abortion restrictions are only part of a larger reproductive debate surrounding the spending resolution, and that’s what has Zherka and his colleagues worried.
The House passed spending bill included new language banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a goal long-sought by conservatives but fiercely opposed by abortion-rights groups and most Democrats. District advocates are concerned that Democratic leaders might agree to the D.C. abortion restrictions as part of a deal that would drop the Planned Parenthood language.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to President Obama this week expressing her concern “that perhaps some D.C. riders may have emerged as bargaining chips in the CR negotiations, with some mentioning a prohibition on the use of the city’s local funds for abortions for low-income women in particular. If any D.C. riders are included in the CR, that acquiescence by Democrats will make it nearly impossible to argue that they should be kept out of the fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 spending bills.”