HOME RULE HAS given the voters of the District the right to elect their public officials. But the House made it clear last week that Congress, not those elected officials, still runs the local government. It did so not only by ordering the District government to stop paying for abortions, but also by carving chunks of money out of the local budget and using the funds thus saved to reduce the federal payment.
The abortion question, of course, is the more spectacular. The arguments for and against government funding of abortions for poor women are so well known it seems pointless to repeat them here. It's enough to say that the Senate should reject not only the limitation the House has written into this bill but also those it has written into appropriations bills for federal agencies.
Unfortunately, the anti-abortion forces in the House have not been content to treat the District the same way they are seeking to treat the rest of the country. They are, instead, attempting to impose on this city a policy they cannot impose on any other community in the nation. If the Senate should concur in what the House has passed, the District government would be barred from spending local, as well as federal, tax dollars on abortions. Elsewhere in the country, the choice of how to spend local dollars rests with state and local governments, not Congress.
It is that aspect of the abortion question, along with the line-by-line scrutiny the House has given to the District budget, that threatens the integrity of the home-rule policy Congress adopted several years ago. District programs and set spending levels on a department-by-department basis, it will quickly undermine any budget authority local officials might attempt to exercise. And if it is going to reduce the federal payment to the city every time the city's tax receipts go up, as the House wants to do this year, it will destroy any incentive for the development of an efficient and responsive local government.
The old days, when the District was run by four congressional committees despite the facade of a local government, were not happy ones for either Congress or the city. So it is distressing to see the House step back toward that era as it did with its actions on abortion and the budget. The Senate should repudiate what it has done and let the District government get on with the job of breathing life into that still fragile concept called home rule.