Aug. 22, 2014
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.

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

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Mayor Vincent Gray have in recent weeks expressed unbridled optimism that they can win passage of legislation in the 112th Congress that would grant budget autonomy to the District of Columbia.

But it’s difficult to reconcile their optimism with political reality — particularly the reality that most things on Capitol Hill come with a price.

The price for budget autonomy is likely to be a ban on funding for abortions in the District.

Whether supporters are willing to pay that price will go a long way toward deciding whether they get what they want.

Below are a handful of scenarios for how the budget autonomy debate could play out in Congress.

Scenario One

House Republican leadership agrees to bring a “clean” bill to the floor.

What Happens: The bill dies in the House or it’s amended in a way that makes it unpalatable to Democrats.

“Advocates and city managers are trying to create a perception of momentum for this legislation,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. “I think this is an illusion. They still have the problem on funding abortions.”

The NRLC is prepared to score votes on any legislation that would grant D.C. budget autonomy but not include, “at minimum,” language blocking local funding for abortions. According to Johnson, 230 House Republicans have perfect voting records with his organization; they wouldn’t risk blemishing their scores on a D.C. vote, he predicted.

Johnson also suggested the organization might demand that D.C. budget legislation include language that bans abortions after 20 weeks, the premise of bills sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that haven’t yet had hearings.

The Senate could move first and send the House a clean bill, but that’s not likely to happen. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has introduced such a bill that could probably win committee approval, but it would likely be blocked on the floor by anti-abortion-rights Senators who aren’t guaranteed the chance to vote on amendments to insert abortion restrictions.

Scenario Two

Norton and local officials are told by House GOP leaders they can’t have a D.C. budget autonomy bill without also banning local funding for abortions, and they reject it.

What Happens: The bill dies in the House, probably before it’s even marked up.

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