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Campus Notebook: Darrell Issa Proposes Greater D.C. Autonomy

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Darrell Issa unveiled draft legislation that would free D.C. from being beholden to Congress’ appropriations process — but only if no funds are used for abortions.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose committee has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, unveiled draft legislation Monday that would allow D.C. to spend its own money — but not on abortions.

The draft bill would free D.C. from being beholden to Congress’ appropriations process. Currently dependent on Capitol Hill lawmakers to vote on spending bills to unleash funds for the District, local officials have had to scramble with each threat of a government shutdown this year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has called for budget autonomy repeatedly and might, in theory, support legislation to achieve that end, although not necessarily Issa’s measure.

However, the legislation proposed by Issa, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is likely to draw criticism for stipulating that no D.C. funds may pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the mother’s life.

Issa argues that his legislation should appeal to local officials clamoring for voting rights and for more independence in general, according to a committee aide.

But without the abortion language, the aide said, the legislation would have dim prospects for passage through a Republican House.

Democrats and local officials were furious earlier this year when President Barack Obama struck a deal with Congressional Republicans to bar D.C. abortion funding in April’s stopgap spending measure.

That provision prompted a protest that led to the arrest of Mayor Vincent Gray and several D.C. Council members.

Issa hopes that Norton and local officials will put their desire for increased D.C. self-determination ahead of any distaste they might have for the abortion provision.

If they do, the legislation could move fairly quickly, Issa’s aide told Roll Call. If not, Issa could either scrap the measure or move ahead without their endorsement.

Local lawmakers stayed quiet Monday as they began to weigh their options. In a statement, Norton said simply that she, Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown were planning on speaking to “evaluate the proposal,” while saying she “appreciate[s] that Chairman Issa has followed up on his statements … that he wanted to give the District of Columbia more authority of its local budget.”

Meanwhile, calling the measure a “disappointment,” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka challenged Issa to introduce a bill free of policy riders, despite fears that it would not have the “edge” needed to garner Republican support.

“We need someone who is going to defy those expectations,” said Zherka. “Issa ought to be a leader on this issue and work on budget autonomy in a way that promotes and respects autonomy of the people of D.C.”

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