The House and Senate can’t agree on much of anything lately, and the District budget is no exception.
A Senate committee controlled by Democrats advanced a spending bill Thursday that would keep federal funding for D.C. at its current level and would not restrict government-provided abortions in the city, a stark difference from the Republican-authored measure that is making its way through the House.
Almost every year since 1996, Congress has prohibited the District from spending its own taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. The House bill for fiscal 2014 would continue that ban while the Senate Appropriations Committee bill would not, setting up yet another clash over the issue whenever the two bills have to be reconciled.
The report accompanying the House bill also includes language making clear Republicans believe the budget autonomy referendum passed by District voters in April has no legal force, and is “an expression of the opinion of the residents, only” that does not reduce or alter Congress’s role in approving the District’s budget.
The Senate report includes no such language. Instead, the Senate bill would give the District the authority to spend locally-raised money without waiting for congressional approval. (A separate District budget autonomy bill passed a House committee Wednesday.)
The Senate bill provides $675 million overall for the District. That is a slight increase over current levels, while the House measure cuts funding by 6 percent. Most of the money pays for the District’s court system, with the rest devoted to education, HIV/AIDS treatment and a handful of other items. Federal funding accounts for roughly 2 percent of the District budget.
D.C. Opportunity Scholarships, a private-school voucher program that has the strong support of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) but is opposed by some District leaders, is receiving $20 million this year but would get $2.2 million next year under the Senate bill, because the program has several million dollars in unspent funds left from previous years.
The House bill would allocate $18 million for the scholarships, and supporters of the program have previously accused the Obama administration of trying to limit the size of the program.
The House measure would cut by half the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program, which helps pay for District students to attend public colleges elsewhere, providing $15 million for fiscal 2014. The Senate bill would give $35 million for the program, a longtime priority of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).