THE DISTRICT'S fiscal year 2000 budget was ratified by the House this week by a wide margin. But the House couldn't bring itself to approve the city's spending plan without delivering more body blows to home rule. It was cruel and unnecessary punishment.
There was no good reason for the House to prohibit the District from using its own funds for a needle-exchange program. Not when the AIDS epidemic is taking its toll on the nation's capital and needle-exchange programs are known to reduce HIV infection -- without promoting drug use. But when it comes to the District, Congress doesn't have to pay attention to science, medicine or common sense. Especially when the opportunity to deliver a political cut presents itself.
How else to explain the House's decision to bar the District from enacting any medical-marijuana law; or the floor vote continuing the restriction on the use of city funds to support a lawsuit seeking congressional voting representation for District residents; or the refusal of the House to strike the congressional prohibition on the use of locally raised funds for abortions for poor women.
This perennial micromanagement of the District by the House of Representatives overshadows much of the good work that is done in the city's behalf on Capitol Hill. City leaders are rightly pleased that the House and Senate have taken early action on the fiscal 2000 budget. They also welcome the public safety initiatives of House Appropriations D.C. subcommittee chairman Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) and his Senate counterpart, Appropriations D.C. subcommittee chairman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.). But the imposition of unwelcome and unwarranted restrictions on the actions of local officials by an unaccountable Congress is understandably galling to city residents.
Fortunately, the House doesn't have the last word. Attention now shifts to a conference committee, where differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of the District's budget must be resolved. If home rule is to have meaning, the conferees should make every effort to eliminate or modify the worst of the intrusive provisions in both bills.