House Republican bill maintains ban on government-funded abortions in D.C.

June 5, 2012

House Republicans released a spending bill Tuesday that would keep federal funding for the District in 2013 close to this year’s level while maintaining a ban on government-funded abortions that has caused tension with local leaders.

The proposed legislation would give the District $667 million to cover the costs of the court system and a handful of other items, including the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the school voucher program that is a top priority of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

It would prevent the city from using its own taxpayer money to pay for abortions for low-income women and ban the use of federal money to pay for needle exchange or medical marijuana programs. The same prohibitions were contained in last year’s version of the bill.

The House Appropriations Committee released the measure ahead of a planned meeting Wednesday morning.

The ban on government-funded abortions has been put in place every year that Republicans have controlled the House since 1994, but it remains a sore subject for D.C. leaders. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and several D.C. Council members were arrested last year at a Capitol Hill protest after President Obama agreed to keep the ban as part of a budget deal with Republicans.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a statement Tuesday that she was pleased that the bill funded “most of her top priorities” and vowed that she and a coalition of outside groups would fight to have the abortion provision removed before the final legislation becomes law.

“We are deeply disappointed that the introduced version of the fiscal year 2013 D.C. appropriations bill again includes the D.C. abortion rider, but with help from the coalition and the District’s friends in the Senate, we will fight back against that rider,” Norton said.

Last year, House Republicans proposed giving the District $637 million, but the final agreement struck with the Senate in December upped the number to $666 million, almost the amount the House GOP is offering. But the total is still down from the $699 million the city got in 2011.

The annual federal payment represents about 2 percent of the District’s overall budget; the city largely covers its own costs through local tax collection. The federal government does fund the D.C. court system, and the bulk of the yearly federal outlay goes toward that purpose.

The measure contains $60 million for D.C. schools, to be evenly divided among traditional public schools, charter schools and the Opportunity Scholarship Program, matching the funding level authorized by Boehner’s legislation. Obama agreed to sign the bill as part of the same budget deal that included the abortion ban last year, although congressional backers have accused the administration of trying to short-change the voucher program.

The bill also includes $30 million for Tuition Assistance Grants, which help D.C. students defray the costs of attending public colleges and universities outside the city. And it provides $9.8 million to develop a “center for innovation and entrepreneurship”on the former St. Elizabeths Hospital campus in Southeast.

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