House’s D.C. bill keeps funding limits for abortion, needle exchange, medical marijuana

July 9, 2013

A House committee released a spending bill Tuesday that would trim federal funding for the District by 6 percent while maintaining a handful of controversial social policy “riders” long opposed by local leaders.

The fiscal 2014 measure unveiled by the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee would continue a ban on the District using its own taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. And the bill would prohibit the use of federal money to cover needle-exchange or medical marijuana programs. All three provisions have been consistently advanced by Republicans and included in annual spending bills when the GOP has held the majority.

The bill would give the District $636 million in federal funding, a reduction of $40 million compared to the fiscal 2013 level. The bulk of the money goes to pay for the city’s court system, with the rest going toward school construction and repair and the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program.

The House measure includes $54 million in continued funding for the Scholarship for Opportunity and Results Act, with the total evenly divided between traditional public schools, charter schools and Opportunity Scholarships, a program that gives low-income District students money for private school tuition. The scholarships have divided local officials but are a top priority of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The advocacy group DC Vote said Tuesday it would urge members to oppose the bill’s policy riders. The group joined more than 50 other organizations last week in sending a letter to members of Congress asking them to leave extraneous provisions out of the legislation.

Kimberly Perry, DC Vote’s executive director, called the measure “a direct attack on the DC Home Rule Act” by lawmakers “using the people of the District of Columbia to advance a narrow social policy agenda in direct opposition with our local priorities. Members of Congress who support these onerous riders will be hearing from their constituents.”

The TAG program, which helps defray tuition for District students who attend public universities elsewhere, would get $15 million — half the amount the program is receiving this year.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), a champion of the program, said the reduction “simply cannot and will not stand” and predicted the Senate would offer more funding in its own version of the bill.

Norton also decried the House bill’s omission of any money for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, which got $15 million this year to help pay for repairing the city’s sewer system and cleaning up local waterways.

The District appropriations bill, which also covers spending for the Treasury Department and the White House, among other items, will be marked up by a subcommittee Wednesday, but it’s unclear how far it will actually move. In recent years the bill has frequently been wrapped into an end-of-year omnibus bill or continuing resolution.

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