The U.S. Senate adopted the District's $4.7 billion budget yesterday, defying D.C. political leaders and the White House, where advisers will recommend that President Clinton veto the measure because it would undermine the city government's ability to set its own policies.
Like last week's vote in the House, yesterday's 52 to 39 vote generally fell along party lines, with Democrats in the unusual position of opposing the city's spending plan and Republicans arguing strongly in support. The GOP majority has attached "social riders"--including measures to prohibit the District from legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes--that Democrats see as meddling with the District's right to govern itself.
If the president rejects the budget, the city would not necessarily be out of money on Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal 2000. Congress likely would adopt a resolution allowing federal appropriations to the District to continue until lawmakers and the White House negotiated a final city budget.
The future of several popular proposals championed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and others could be jeopardized by a presidential veto, however.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District, warned that a veto could cost the District as much as $50 million. That could threaten a program to permit D.C. high school graduates to attend some out-of-state colleges while paying in-state tuition rates, Davis said, as well as a planned cleanup of the Anacostia River.
"We're in a very, very tight budget right now," said Davis, referring to the federal budget currently under consideration. "If there's a veto, I'm afraid some of this money in the budget won't make its way back to the District. We fought very hard to get some of these programs funded."
Clinton's budget director, Jacob J. Lew, has said he would advise the president to stand up for D.C. home rule. It would be difficult for Clinton not to go along with the recommendations of his own staff, political party and the Democratic leadership of a city he has vowed to help rebuild.
"The bill just hasn't changed and unfortunately our position hasn't either," said Linda Ricci, spokeswoman for the federal Office of Management and Budget.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who watched yesterday's Senate discussion and vote from the Senate floor, said: "I don't think there's any doubt about a veto here. We really are trying to make the point to Congress that when the District brings you a balanced budget, with tax cuts and a surplus that you love, that ought to be enough" for approval.
In recent years, Republicans have opposed the D.C. spending bill because of mismanagement by the city's government that led to near-bankruptcy four years ago. This year's budget--which includes a $150 million surplus and begins a five-year, $300 million package of tax cuts--has received bipartisan support from the city's presidentially appointed financial control board, its new mayor and council, and federal lawmakers.
The D.C. budget easily passed both houses of Congress this summer, but when it went to a joint House-Senate conference committee, some GOP lawmakers added restrictions that infuriated D.C. officials and led to the current stalemate. The latest votes in the Senate and House were on the conference committee's version of the spending plan.
The controversial restrictions included the marijuana prohibition and banning the city from supplying clean, free needles to drug addicts in an effort to slow the spread of HIV infections. GOP lawmakers also objected to the city providing money for petition drives and lawsuits seeking to require voting representation in Congress for the District. Other additions to the budget would allow Bell Atlantic to build two cellular telephone towers in Rock Creek Park, and forbid city spending on most abortions and on health benefits for unmarried domestic partners.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said during yesterday's floor discussion that the Senate has the right to set "standards" for the nation's capital because the city belongs to all Americans and should set an example. Giving clean needles to addicts would increase drug use, she said, and legalizing marijuana for medicinal reasons would make the District "a haven for marijuana use."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said Republicans are using the D.C. budget process as "a playground to introduce any issue or amendment they like, knowing that the District of Columbia is powerless to change it."
Durbin said he opposes the city's planned tax cuts, which he characterized as giving money away at a time when it should be spent on schools, police protection, vector control and other services. But Durbin said he isn't trying to derail the cuts endorsed by D.C. officials because "it's their decision to make," under home rule.
Norton said she is confident the city will be able to keep its budget intact, noting that the White House supports the position of D.C. officials.
CAPTION: Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said a veto could cost the city millions.