A WEEK ago D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton urged House Democrats to vote for the D.C. budget bill. This week she was urging its defeat. Last week D.C. Council Republicans Carol Schwartz and David Catania were slated to host a fund-raiser for fellow Republican and House D.C. appropriations subcommittee chairman Ernest Istook. This week, Mrs. Schwartz and Mr. Catania announced their boycott of the Istook fund-raiser and joined with Del. Norton in urging rejection of the D.C. budget bill. What caused them to change their tune?
On Thursday a conference committee met to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of the District's fiscal year 2000 budget. Going in, city leaders were hopeful that the conferees would excise some objectionable social policy riders attached to both measures. It was not to be. The final conference report made the bill worse, complained Del. Norton. Hence the wholesale defection of local leaders, including Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council.
With Congress now in recess, no further action can occur until September, when the members return. The month's delay is probably for the best, if for no other reason than to allow City Hall to calmly reflect on the conference results. To be sure, there are several odious features in the final conference report. However, it also contains much to like.
The city's $4.7 billion budget is clearing Capitol Hill virtually untouched. The major fiscal change is more money added by Congress -- tens of millions of extra dollars for drug treatment, foster care, crime fighting, capital projects and severance funds to help reduce the city payroll. That financial windfall must be weighed against the unwanted riders -- a ban on spending local funds on abortions for poor women and on a needle exchange program, the prohibition against legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, restriction on use of D.C. funds for a voting rights suit -- and the possibility of less than full funding for the new college-tuition bill.
It's not an easy call. Administration officials have raised the prospect of a presidential veto because of the riders. But theirs is not the last word. The White House may be able to reopen the bill as part of the broader negotiations expected next month over appropriations generally. Meanwhile, there may also be some second thoughts about this week's second thoughts here at home.