The U.S. House on Thursday passed a spending bill that would block five laws affecting the District of Columbia, including the city’s new assisted-suicide law.
The bill would also block the District from spending money to subsidize abortion for low-income residents; regulate the sale of marijuana; or carry out a law that says employers cannot discriminate against workers based on their reproductive decisions, such as whether to take birth control or seek an abortion.
Another measure would prevent the city from spending money without federal permission, what city advocates call budget autonomy.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, must now rely on the Senate to not take up and approve identical measures. If the Senate does not act, it would effectively stall for another year congressional efforts to rein in the District through spending-related measures.
“House Republicans express endless love of local control of local affairs, their central party principle, except when it comes to the District of Columbia,” Norton said in a statement. “They preach the constitutional principle of federalism, yet use the big foot of the federal government to undemocratically overturn and block local D.C. policies they disagree with, solely on a political basis.”
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the District, said Congress by law has extensive power over the District but has allowed the city to assume more power over time.
“The District of Columbia has plenty of autonomy,” he said in a floor debate Wednesday. “When it comes to spending, that is the role of Congress given to us through the U.S. Constitution.”
Thursday’s vote marks the first time either congressional chamber has voted to repeal the District’s Death With Dignity Act, which Bowser signed into law in December.
District officials are watching for action from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who tried unsuccessfully to block the assisted-suicide bill earlier this year and is now chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee with jurisdiction over the District.
Lankford’s office did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
Tomás Talamante, who oversees congressional appropriations in the D.C. Office of Federal and Regional Affairs, said Bowser is hopeful Lankford will drop his objections to the law.
“Congress had ample time during the congressional review period to reject the Death With Dignity Act,” he said. “They did not act, so we are hopeful they will not act on repealing this law.”
The D.C. Council passed the assisted-suicide law by an 11-to-2 vote after more than a year of discussion and lobbying on the part of lawmakers, advocates and opponents.
Advocates support the measure because it would allow terminally ill patients to choose the timing and manner of their deaths. But social conservatives oppose assisted suicide because they see it as undermining the sanctity of life.
The legislation was modeled after the nation’s first physician-assisted suicide law, enacted in Oregon in 1997. It would allow doctors to prescribe fatal medication to patients believed to have less than six months to live. Patients would have to make two requests over two weeks and ingest the drugs themselves.
Another piece of D.C. legislation that House Republicans are trying to stop is the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act.
For the third straight year, the House voted to block funding needed to enforce a 2014 law that says employers cannot discriminate against workers based on their decisions about whether to take birth control or have an abortion, or other reproductive-health decisions.
The House also denied Norton’s effort to give the city a right to spend its own tax dollars as it wishes.