Congressman vows to keep working for D.C. budget autonomy

November 17, 2011

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) vowed Thursday to keep pressing for budget autonomy for the District, one day after city leaders rejected his proposal that would have coupled more spending freedom with a ban on government-funded abortions.

Issa’s bill would allow the city to start spending its own money as soon as the D.C. Council and mayor approved a budget, and would also make permanent a temporary ban on the city paying for abortions except in cases of incest, rape or to protect the life of the mother. That prohibition is backed by most Republicans but strongly opposed by local leaders.

The measure was tentatively scheduled to be considered Thursday by the House committee, but was deleted from the agenda after a trio of Democrats, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), declared their opposition.

The action marked the second time in as many years that District officials have declined to accept less local control in one area in exchange for more freedom in another. In 2010, Democratic leaders in Congress shelved a plan to give the city a voting member in the House because gun rights supporters planned to attach language weakening the city’s gun laws.

Despite the impasse, Thursday’s committee meeting was marked by bipartisan comity. As Issa pledged to continue working on the bill, Norton praised his efforts.

“As chair I remain committed that we will accomplish” passage of a budget bill, Issa said, later adding: “I will keep the light on this issue until we have the law.”

Norton, for her part, said she understood that adding the abortion provision to the bill was not Issa’s preference; many of his Republican colleagues wanted it. And she said Issa’s bill was similar in many respects to her own budget autonomy proposal.

“The bill was extraordinary in its scope and its deference and understanding of the city,” Norton said.

Both lawmakers acknowledged that the abortion restriction wasn’t the only issue that scuttled the bill. “It became apparent . . . there were lots of other potential riders” that members might offer, Issa said.

Moving forward, Issa said, he wants lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to tell him ahead of time if they plan to offer amendments to the D.C. bill. That way, the issues can be negotiated beforehand, he said, so “that we would not be surprised unfairly.”

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