THOUGH CONGRESSIONAL conferees deadlocked this week over whether to let the District spend even its locally raised revenues for abortions, the House still has a chance to undo the damage its members caused in the first place. By a narrow and mischievous floor vote in July, they tacked an abortion spending ban to the D.C. budget bill. This move, as many legislators may be realizing in retrospect, was not simply a free poke at the voteless District; it was a bad legislative decision for reasons that have nothing directly to do with the abortion controversy.
The House members' vote was an attempt to impose on this city something that most of their constituents wouldn't stand for if it happened back home: a congressional restriction on local spending of local tax money. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate's chief overseer of the District's purse strings, has noted that "there would be a revolution" in his home state if Congress tried to impose such a restriction on spending of money there.
Both Mr. Leahy and his House counterpart, Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), did try to persuade other House conferees to drop the ban, for neither of their committees had approved it; when that failed, the conferees decided to take the question back to the House, where action could come next week. Meanwhile -- shades of old -- the District has no approved budget for the year that begins Oct. 1. The taxes raised by the city and paid by city residents can't be spent until Congress and the president give permission.
That's neither a fair nor sound way to run any municipality. Not only should House members seize the opportunity to lift the abortion restriction; they and their colleagues in the Senate should move to accord the District of Columbia the fiscal authority that other elected state and local governments take for granted.