NEXT TIME the trash collectors are late or a computer sends you a $6,492 water bill you may want to get in touch with Sen. Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire. You can call Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey about potholes and liquor licenses. These men have indicated a desire to make local decisions for the citizens of the District of Columbia in areas most of us thought were the responsibility of the city government. Apparently they do not believe we are mature or competent enough to be trusted with self-government.
At issue is the District government's decision to use its own money to pay for abortions for the poor. No federal Medicaid money can be used for this purpose anywhere in the United States. We don't agree with that prohibition, but even its opponents concede that Congress has the right to set conditions on the expenditure of federal funds. The District, however, and 14 states have elected to fund abortion programs using only their own local taxes to pay for them. If the citizens of New York decide to use real estate, local income or sales taxes for this purpose, there is no one to stop them. Here, we can usually count on someone from New Hampshire or Georgia to intervene.
In August, Rep. Smith persuaded the House to adopt an amendment to the 1986 D.C. appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of local funds to pay for abortions. The amendment was deleted in the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the District, but when the measure comes to the floor this week, Sen. Humphrey plans to offer a slightly modified version that would allow publicly funded abortions only to save the life of the mother. Another meddling amendment, this one by Sen. Mack Mattingly (R- Ga.), would forbid D.C. officials to award consulting contracts without competitive bids.No matter what your view of that suggestion, shouldn't it be debated in the D.C Council instead of the national legislature?
Sen. Humphrey believes that this kind of interference in home rule is perfectly acceptable. He points out that Congress regularly restricts expenditures for things such as taxi meters and personnel lotteries for police and fire department jobs. That may be true, but the same objection applies to these and other types of congressional interference in purely local matters. Tying strings to federal money is something every state has to deal with, but local control of local finances is challenged only here. Senators who believe that citizens of the District can be trusted to govern themselves will oppose both Sen. Humphrey's and Sen. Mattingly's efforts.