Republican congressional leaders are planning to offer a new version of the District's fiscal 2000 budget as early as next week, restoring a 15.6 percent pay raise for D.C. Council members but keeping the ban on medical marijuana and other key restrictions that led to a presidential veto.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) immediately dismissed the GOP effort, calling it premature because negotiations between the White House and Congress over the D.C. bill have not formally begun.
"It's not serious bargaining," Norton said. "We won't crawl away based on unilateral threats."
The GOP's take-it-or-leave-it strategy is intended to increase leverage against President Clinton, who vetoed the District's $4.7 billion budget Sept. 28 because he objected to seven of 72 "riders" attached to the bill by Congress. The riders included a lower pay raise for D.C. Council members and the drug restrictions.
A White House budget official, responding to the GOP proposal, said last night: "They have raised certain issues. We look forward to sharing our views on our issues and engaging in matters of substance in this bill."
The District's budget year began Oct. 1, and Congress has given the city enough money to operate through Oct. 21. Lawmakers are trying to resolve the stalemate quickly because, as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) noted, the District loses money every day because the new budget contains more money. Congress kicked in $18 million more than Clinton requested.
Council members have voted to increase their pay from $80,000 a year to $92,500. Hutchison, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District, criticized that as "excessive" because legislators are part time. Hutchison's rider would have cut the raise and set the salary at $84,635 a year. Clinton and District officials said the rider violated the city's right to set its own salaries, as other cities and states do.
Linda W. Cropp (D-At Large), who as council chairman receives $102,000 and is not permitted to hold an outside job, has defended the increase. Cropp said that the part-time status is in name only and that members work all day on city matters even if they have outside jobs.
Cropp was out of town at a funeral yesterday and could not be reached for comment. The vice chairman, Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), declined to comment.
The Republicans also said they would remove a rider limiting fees paid to lawyers who represent schoolchildren seeking services from the District's special education program. Although the $50-an-hour limit would have saved up to $12 million in the coming year, lawmakers agreed to negotiate a higher cap that would allow more poor families a wider choice in lawyers.
The medical marijuana rider would prohibit the District from legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes, while the needle exchange rider would ban spending on a program that allows drug addicts free needles as a way to curb the spread of diseases, including HIV and AIDS. Republicans say the restrictions discourage drug use. Democrats say city residents have the right to determine their own affairs, as others around the country do.
If Clinton vetoes the bill again, the GOP leaders said, the District's spending plan will be added to a catchall appropriations bill that includes money for federal agencies. If so, the GOP warned, the District budget could be cut.
"I will tell you I got a lot of pressure to cut the money this time" in the bill being readied for next week, Hutchison said. "If we send it back and it's vetoed again, it's going to be hard to hold it again."
Among the programs threatened by budget trims, the GOP says, are a tuition proposal to allow D.C. students to pay in-state rates at universities in Maryland and Virginia; a cleanup of the Anacostia River for waterfront development; widening the 14th Street bridges; and eradicating open-air drug markets.
The city's budget--which had won bipartisan support until the riders were added--also includes the largest tax cut in the city's history and a $150 million reserve fund.
"D.C. has nothing to gain and everything to lose if the president vetoes the bill again," said Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District.
Norton, who met Thursday with White House budget director Jacob "Jack" Lew, declined to discuss the options being weighed by Democrats, saying such negotiations are private. The Republicans have made an offer, but nothing has been countered, Norton said.
"I have every reason to believe that a bill will be worked out in the normal course of business," Norton said. "We have no intention of rolling over and dying."
CAPTION: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says she expects a D.C. budget deal.
CAPTION: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison warns of pressure to cut the D.C. budget.
CAPTION: Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. says the District would pay for another veto.