House panel signs off on D.C. bill: $62M less, abortion-spending ban

June 16, 2011

A House Appropriations subcommittee approved its version of the 2012 spending bill for the District on Thursday, passing along a relatively clean measure that could undergo bigger changes as it moves up the legislative ladder.

The bill would cut the federal government’s payment to the city by $62 million, or 10 percent, compared with 2011. It also would ban the city from spending its own money to pay for abortion services, a provision that has angered local leaders. But it does not contain “riders” affecting the District’s ability to use local funds on needle-exchange programs or medical marijuana, nor does it affect the city’s law permitting same-sex marriage.

The financial services and general government subcommittee passed the bill by voice vote, and as is traditional at that level, no amendments were offered. That will change when the bill reaches the full Appropriations Committee next Thursday, and the fireworks — concerning the District as well as other controversial topics in the measure, such as the IRS and White House budgets — will begin.

“Something tells me it’s not going to be as quiet in full committee,” said Rep. Jose E. Serrano (N.Y.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat.

Although the markup was collegial, Serrano did take Republicans to task, saying that “this bill once again interferes in the District of Columbia’s affairs by imposing social-policy restrictions on how the District can spend its own funds. This micromanagement is not the proper role of Congress.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) specifically criticized the abortion-spending ban.

“This harmful policy endangers the health and lives of our low-income women,” she said.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), the subcommittee chairman, barely mentioned the District in her remarks, except to say that the bill made a priority of “public safety and education” in the District.

After the bill clears the Appropriations Committee next week, it is tentatively scheduled to reach the House floor in July and will be subject to many more amendments. It then must be taken up by the Senate, where Democratic leaders will seek to avoid including D.C. policy riders.

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