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.
The city collects nontax revenues from licensing, fees and the like that can be earmarked for specific purposes. Though that money is still part of the District’s general budget that Congress approves, an agreement could be reached that would allow local officials to specify some of these funds to cover abortions.
According to the mayor’s office, there were 117 elective abortions provided from Aug. 1, 2010, to April 15, 2011, costing the city roughly $62,300.
The city could arrange for a private organization to accept donations to fund abortions, taking public money entirely out of the equation. That might make the deal acceptable to some lawmakers who favor abortion rights but oppose government funding.
There’s also the DC Abortion Fund, the volunteer-run nonprofit that seeks private donations to pay for abortions.
Not everyone would sanction this proposal, though. Meyers said the DC Abortion Fund is already “dramatically underfunded” and an unsustainable resource that’s no substitute for government funding.
Lawmakers add a provision granting D.C. budget autonomy to another bill.
What Happens: Picture the clock running out on the 112th Congress during the lame-duck session, with lawmakers scrambling to clear must-pass legislation: a bill that funds the government (and, ironically, the District of Columbia) through the end of the fiscal year, legislation to extend middle-class tax cuts and proposals to offset sequestration of the defense budget.
Any of these last-minute measures could be candidates for a rider giving D.C. budget autonomy. At the end of a session, controversial and benign provisions alike often hitch rides onto other measures. Lawmakers may not like it, but few would sink a bill needed to keep the government afloat based on one provision alone.
Issa at one point indicated that this could be the most likely scenario for enacting D.C. budget autonomy in this Congress. Others have agreed, adding that making the proposal a rider itself would be a way to protect the bill from policy riders on abortion, guns, needle exchange programs and D.C. school vouchers.
There’s no certainty that a ban on local abortion funding wouldn’t accompany D.C. budget autonomy language tacked onto one of these end-of-session bills. Johnson points out that the NRLC threatened to score the underlying last-minute fiscal 2012 spending package last December unless it contained a ban on government-funded abortions in D.C.