Gray, Norton try to avert ‘riders’ on social issues of D.C. budget

June 8, 2011

With the spending season underway on Capitol Hill, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray joined activists Wednesday to urge Congress not to attach social policy “riders” to the District’s budget.

A House appropriations subcommittee will meet June 16 to consider a bill that includes the District’s budget for fiscal 2012. In past years, particularly when Republicans have controlled the House, that measure has been a magnet for language that changes city laws or restricts the use of locally raised funds.

In April, President Obama and House Republicans cut a spending deal that included a prohibition on government-funded abortions in the District and that revived and expanded a controversial private-school voucher program. House Republicans failed in their effort to include a ban on District-run needle exchange programs.

That issue could surface again during next week’s session, and local officials and activists are also concerned that Republicans may target the city’s laws on same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and guns.

“The District of Columbia is not a congressional toy, and we certainly aren’t a laboratory,” Gray said at a Capitol Hill news conference, flanked by representatives of local and national advocacy groups.

Nearly 100 organizations — including prominent groups promoting abortion rights, gay rights and gun safety — have signed a letter to members of the financial services and general government subcommittee urging them to let “Washingtonians manage their own affairs without interference or meddling.”

No members of the subcommittee, which handles D.C. spending, have telegraphed their intention to push for District-related items in the 2012 spending bill. A spokesman for Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), the chair of the subcommittee, said he could not comment on the contents of the bill before it is released.

In April, Gray and several members of the D.C. Council were arrested at a protest of the spending deal, an incident that briefly drew the spotlight to the District’s plight. On Wednesday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said that local leaders shouldn’t have to “get themselves locked up to assert their citizenship right.”

Norton also compared the District’s home-rule efforts to the civil rights movement.

“The first strategy is resistance,” Norton said. “I don’t expect Republicans to see the light by themselves any more than I expected Southern racists to see the light. . . . If there hadn’t been resistance, there would not be change.”

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