The District's $8.2 billion 2005 budget was approved by a House committee yesterday after Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) discouraged efforts to tie the measure to the national debate over same-sex marriage.
The House Appropriations Committee cleared the bill by voice vote for floor consideration Wednesday. Senate action is not expected before September.
The bill includes $560 million in federal initiatives, including $25.6 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, which allows city high school graduates to attend participating colleges and universities across the country at lower costs. Also included are $10 million to help replace antiquated sewers, a $7 million installment for an emergency and public safety communications center and $3 million to build an Anacostia River trail system.
Over the objections of local officials, bans were retained against District spending on free drug needle-exchange programs, legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana and lobbying for congressional voting representation.
Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said he sought no new amendments, or riders to his bill, which fully funds the budget approved by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the D.C. Council. "There are no new legislative riders included in this bill . . . . If offered, I would urge that they be defeated," Frelinghuysen said.
Congress did not approve the 2004 D.C. budget until January, four months into the fiscal year, after Republicans prevailed in a controversial bid to launch a federal school voucher program. Money for vouchers and matching funds for D.C. regular and charter public schools, $40 million, was included again this year.
City officials and bill managers feared that the same-sex marriage controversy might derail this year's budget. Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), a socially conservative Congress member from Yorktown, Va., introduced a bill last week to define marriage in the District as between a man and a woman and had threatened to offer it as an amendment yesterday.
But DeLay told senior GOP House leaders Monday that he preferred, for now, that the House address the issue by voting next week on separate legislation, sponsored by Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.), that would deny federal judges jurisdiction over the Defense of Marriage Act. Congress passed the act in 1996, defining marriage in federal law as a union between a man and a woman and allowing states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The Hostettler bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday and is backed by most House Republicans.
DeLay told GOP leaders that the House could take up a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage when Congress returns from its summer recess in September. The Senate yesterday defeated a similar amendment, 48 to 50, 19 votes short of the 67 needed to pass.
DeLay said that activists opposing same-sex marriage would not be satisfied with a ban only in the nation's capital. He also cited District home rule and concern that an attempt to graft the issue onto the D.C. budget could be challenged before the House Rules Committee or on the floor, which could require a separate vote.
City leaders hailed the swift vote and praised Frelinghuysen and Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.). "When it's short, it's sweet," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said. "That's the kind of appropriations process we want to see more of. Young and Frelinghuysen have been really clear the way to do D.C. appropriations is to essentially pass the bill as is."