District leaders have decided to reject a legislative deal that would have granted the city more budget autonomy in exchange for acceding to a ban on publicly funded abortions, likely dooming the proposal.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) floated a draft bill earlier this week that would have allowed D.C. to begin spending its own money as soon as the City Council and mayor have agreed on a budget, without having to wait for Congress to approve it.
But the measure also would have made permanent the current temporary ban on the District using its own funds to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. The ban has been strongly opposed by local leaders, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and several members of the council were arrested over the issue during an April protest.
Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) reacted cautiously when Issa first offered his proposal Monday, but after two days of discussions — during which they sought to find out whether the abortion ban was negotiable — they have decided to oppose the measure.
In a joint statement issued Wednesday morning by Gray, Norton and Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), the leaders said they could not accept the bill, and that they “appreciate” Issa’s attempt to give them the autonomy they seek, noting that the bill includes much of what the city has sought.
“Particularly considering the many good provisions in Chairman Issa’s bill, we regret that we cannot accept it, and would have to strongly oppose it if it were introduced,” they said. “We recognize that the abortion provision is what Chairman Issa believed would be necessary to get the bill passed in the House. But the views of others should not prevail over the views of our own residents. Our opposition to the provision to permanently prohibit the District from spending its local funds on abortion services for low-income women is as strong as the views of those outside our city who support it.”
The leaders added that they “hope the Issa proposal represents a continuation of a conversation he started at the hearing in May, not an end, and will serve as a model for how Congress can work collaboratively with the city.”
Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said, “Chairman Issa appreciates the serious consideration D.C. leaders gave this proposal. He will continue efforts to work with them on this and other issues affecting our nation’s capital.”
It appears unlikely the chairman will move forward with the bill without the consent of local leaders, likely shelving the issue for the foreseeable future.
The impasse marks the second time in recent years District leaders have rejected a proposal requiring the city to give up some local policy control in exchange for more authority in other areas. Last April, Democratic leaders in Congress shelved a plan to grant D.C. a voting member of the House because gun-rights supporters planned to attach provisions that would have gutted the city’s gun laws.