Home rule in peril

Monday, January 24, 2011

REPUBLICANS GAINED control of the House in large measure because they wanted to reduce the reach of the federal government and stop the abuse of local communities. Yet the third bill introduced into the House and backed by leadership includes a power grab of disturbing dimensions against D.C. home rule. Coming just two weeks after D.C. residents lost their vote in the Committee of the Whole on the House floor, it is a troubling omen for District interests.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, introduced Friday, would permanently prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion across all federal programs by codifying the Hyde Amendment, which is routinely attached to annual appropriations bills. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) and endorsed by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), contains a provision that would reimpose the prohibition on the District's use of local taxpayer-raised funds for abortions for low-income women. When Democrats had control of the House, that ban - along with measures that prevented the use of local funds for needle exchanges and medical marijuana - was lifted. That the bill is one of the new Republican majority's highest priorities is evident from the fact that it is being given a low-number designation (H.R. 3) reserved for prominent legislation.

What is worrying about the measure, from the city's point of view, is the new tactic being employed to undermine D.C. self-government. Instead of merely rolling back local laws, the bill would essentially make the government of the District of Columbia part of the federal government for abortion purposes. "The term 'Federal Government' includes the government of the District of Columbia," the bill reads. Not only would this allow Congress to permanently deny local abortion funding outside the appropriations process, but it also would fundamentally reshape the relationship between Washington and the federal government. One has to wonder if this new tactic will be employed in other areas and, as such, is the start of an aggressive attack on home rule. If so, it is more important than ever that the Senate guard the city's interests, with the president's veto power being the last line of defense.

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