TOP ON its agenda when Congress returns from Thanksgiving break will be an omnibus spending bill to keep the government running past Dec. 11. While the bipartisan budget accord brokered by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sets spending limits, flash points on specific expenditures and policy remain. Likely to take center stage are Syrian refugees, financial regulations, perhaps Planned Parenthood. What we hope doesn’t get overlooked or shortchanged in negotiations are the interests of the 600,000-plus Americans who make the District of Columbia their home.
The District is all too aware that its right to home rule is cavalierly and regularly offered up as a sacrificial lamb to keep the government running. That’s what happened in 2011, when as part of the deal to avert a government shutdown, President Obama and Senate Democrats agreed to a House Republican demand banning the District from using local monies to pay for abortions for low-income women. Last year, a measure restricting the use of local funds for marijuana commercialization was enacted. Now House Republicans are pushing for yet another rider that would bar D.C. from using local funds to enforce a nondiscrimination law.
It’s important that House and Senate Democrats, whose votes likely will be needed for passage of a budget, protect the District’s interests. It may prove to be too difficult to eliminate the existing riders on abortion and marijuana (although the effort should be made), but under no circumstances should Democrats accept a budget that includes the new rider interfering with the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act, which bars employer discrimination based on reproductive health decisions. Mr. Obama needs to make clear that he would veto any budget that includes additional infringements on the city’s home rule.
It is, of course, Republicans who are primarily responsible for how D.C. rights and autonomy have been eroded. Especially galling is how they extol the ability of cities and states — rather than the federal government — to devise solutions that best serve their local communities at the same time they upend D.C. laws. We urge newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose 16 years in the House have been marked by his support for local control, to end his party’s hypocrisy by making clear the District has a right to manage its own affairs without political interference from Congress.