House panel approves District funding, continues abortion spending ban

June 20, 2012

A House panel approved new federal funding for the District on Wednesday, including additional money for city courts, the extension of a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and the continuation of a controversial ban on city money being used to pay for abortions.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2013 Financial Services spending plan, which includes funding for a variety of government services, on a voice vote.

But before the final vote, House Democrats and Republicans squared off over a provision in the budget that prohibits the District from using its own money to pay for abortions for low-income women.


Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment that would have stripped the abortion rider from the Republican-authored plan, pleading with her colleagues not to act as if they work as the “city council or mayor of the District.”

“It marginalizes the city and its residents and blatantly impedes on the District’s ability to self govern,” Lee said. “No other city is told how to spend its locally raised revenue, so why should we force the District?”

The abortion-funding ban on the District has been routine for more than a decade, but it was briefly lifted in 2010 when the Democrats controlled Congress. It was reinstated in 2011 after the GOP retook control.

Rep Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), chairwoman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, stressed the full House likely wouldn’t approve a committee spending plan that didn’t include the abortion language.

“If we want the financial services bill to move forward…and if you want D.C. to be able to spend its local funds on everything else beside abortion, we have to allow it to move forward,” said Emerson.

The committee voted 26 to 21 against Lee’s amendment.

Beside the abortion fight, the committee did not attempt to tamper with any other District-related provisions in the Appropriations bill.

On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) reached an agreement to fund an enrollment increase from 1,615 to 1,700 students for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program gives low-income District students money to help pay for private-school tuition.

The spending plan also includes more than than $200 million for District courts, money to help the city pay for presidential inaugurations, and some funds for continued redevelopment on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

The House funding bill will need to be reconciled with the Senate’s version of the spending plan.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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