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Debate on D.C. Policy Riders Continues

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray hold a news conference Tuesday to urge Members of Congress to refrain from inserting policy riders into fiscal 2013 appropriations bills.

With appropriations season under way, local officials and activist allies launched a pre-emptive strike against Congressional attempts to insert Washington, D.C.-specific policy riders into fiscal 2013 spending bills.

At a Tuesday press conference in the Rayburn House Office Building, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka were joined by Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Julianna Gonen, policy council for federal legislation at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Norton said the marriage of local players with those on the national scene could help put pressure on Members of Congress to refrain from inserting policy riders, including those that restrict abortion funding, into appropriations bills.

“The difference between the Americans represented by these [national] organizations and us is that they have voting Members of Congress,” Norton said Tuesday. “And what they do that we cannot do is contact those voting Members of Congress who serve on the Appropriations committees of the Senate and House and essentially tell them that they will be watching to see whether or not [they] are paying attention to their own districts [and] not the rights of another district ... unaccountable to them.”

As was the case last year, groups interested primarily in D.C. autonomy will pair up with national issue advocacy groups to target policy provisions that might be included in appropriation bills or spending deals.

“These organizations believe that reproductive choice, gun safety, marriage equality and HIV-AIDS prevention are important to many Americans and that those who disagree cross the line when they try to keep the city from using local taxpayer dollars” as it so chooses, Norton said.

DC Vote, along with NARAL, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Human Rights Campaign and AIDS United, sent a letter to appropriators on Tuesday urging them to reject “social-policy riders that usurp the prerogative of Washington, D.C.’s elected mayor and council and the citizens they represent.”

DC Vote has also taken steps to inform voters in other jurisdictions when their  representatives are, in the D.C. group’s eyes, encroaching on the District’s autonomy.

Most recently, the group has been targeting Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has introduced a handful of bills in the 112th Congress that would place restrictions on abortion — among them a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia on the premise that the fetus can feel pain after that threshold.

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