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What’s in the Cards for D.C. Budget Autonomy?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Vincent Gray (right) have expressed optimism that they can win budget autonomy for the District of Columbia during the 112th Congress — but the price is likely to be a ban on funding for abortions in the District.

Leadership would likely defer to Norton on whether she wants to take a compromise on abortion, rather than force a floor vote without her consent. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) did her this courtesy in November by not moving forward with his draft proposal that paired D.C. budget autonomy with restrictions on abortion funding.

The Senate could take up Liebermanís D.C. budget autonomy bill separately but, again, lawmakers are likely to block the legislation on the floor if they donít have the assurance that theyíll get to offer amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would probably not want to allow abortion amendments, in deference to his largely pro-abortion-rights caucus, or any amendments that could impose unwanted restrictions on the District. The more likely scenario is that he decides not to bring up the bill at all rather than risk having it become a vehicle for GOP message votes.

Scenario Three

Norton and local officials agree to a House budget autonomy bill that bans local funding for abortions.

What Happens: The bill passes the House with Republican support and Norton risks alienating local and Congressional allies.

Norton has friends among Democrats, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Pro-Choice Caucus, but in this case many of them would likely break ranks with her. Just like anti-abortion House Republicans donít want to alienate their base if they vote for a bill without abortion restrictions, House Democrats who favor abortion rights run the risk of alienating their base if they vote for a bill with such provisions.

Abortion rights groups will also be exerting pressure. Fundraisers could pull financial backing in an election year. And Laura Meyers, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, contends that any D.C. autonomy bill with a catch is no budget autonomy bill at all.

ďAny deal that would include a rider to prohibit the district from spending its own locally raised tax dollars on abortions is a betrayal of women in D.C.,Ē Meyers said.

Community activists and constituents could also feel betrayed by the decision. DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka has consistently described a compromise on abortion as ďunacceptable.Ē

It all could be damaging for Norton, who canít vote on the House floor and relies on her allies to help her gain political leverage.

After House passage, abortion rights supporters in the Senate could block the bill, Reid could choose not to take it up at all, or Norton could convince Democrats in the other body that three-quarters of a loaf is better than nothing.

Scenario Four

Norton, the mayor and others reach a deal with House leadership that could also pass muster in the Senate: move on a budget autonomy bill that bars D.C. tax dollars for abortions but does not bar local officials from using special funds, or raising private funds, to pay for low-income womenís abortions.

What Happens: Itís one suggestion thatís been floated that could appeal to both sides of the issue while accomplishing the main objective: give D.C. control of its own budget.

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