LAST SATURDAY afternoon in the House -- with 37 members absent -- abortion foes and other members unhappy with the District government joined forces to reject the D.C. budget conference report. The vote was 211-185. Despite this action, House and Senate conferees have decided to try again to pass the District spending bill before adjournment. They have also agreed to retain language allowing the city to use its own money to help poor women pay for abortions. Opponents of the bill and White House staff are threatening a presidential veto over the abortion language, but the conferees' decision to proceed with both is absolutely correct. Now an all-out effort is being made to get the conference report adopted in both Houses. We hope it succeeds, and by margins wide enough to override a veto.
At stake is more than the much-needed and overdue $430 million federal payment to the city. Eighty-six percent of the funds in this bill -- $3.2 billion -- represents the city's own locally raised tax contribution, reflecting the priorities of local citizens -- their own effort to govern themselves -- as intended in the Home Rule Charter.
Saturday's unfortunate and surprising defeat allowed some members of the House to vent their spleen about the city. For example, one usual supporter of District legislation, Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) voted against the bill as his "way of showing distaste for how the government is run." After the vote, the bill's Democratic floor manager, D.C. Appropriations subcommittee chairman Julian Dixon (Calif.), also observed that "a lot of the Republican pro-choice people were voting no because it was the D.C. bill," and District-bashing is "popular" sport these days on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Glickman says he will now support the conference report this time around. So should others in Congress who support the concept of self-government for the city but who have been put off by the administration of Mayor Marion Barry. They should bear in mind that District voters also made it unmistakably clear last month at the polls -- by voting for change and new faces in the District Building -- that they feel the same way. A vote for this bill is not a vote for the outgoing Barry administration. On the contrary, adoption of the conference report on the D.C. appropriations bill will symbolize a show of support for the good judgment of the District's voters and will at the same time represent the best contribution this Congress can make to the prospect that the next administration in the District of Columbia -- either Democrat Sharon Dixon's or Republican Maurice Turner's -- will get off to a solid start next January.