The District’s autonomy, or lack thereof, again became fodder for House Judiciary Committee debate as the panel marked up a bill Wednesday that would permanently prevent D.C. from spending locally raised funds on abortion.
“I believe it important that we take a stand today against the treatment of Americans who live in the District as second-class citizens,” said Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who introduced an amendment to strike language that defines D.C. as a part of the federal government.
Conyers reminded his colleagues that Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., was denied the chance to testify on the provision during a Jan. 9 subcommittee hearing on the bill, despite the fact that the measure would have a “unique and damaging” impact on her District.
Thirty minutes before, Norton raised the same point as she joined other Democrats in the hallway to protest the lack of women representing the Republican majority of the Judiciary Committee, calling the proposal “an insult to the people I represent” that “snatches authority from a local jurisdiction.”
Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., argued that Conyers’ amendment should be defeated because it would exclude D.C. from coverage under the bill. The provision codifies an existing appropriations rider known as the Hyde Amendment that is “included in the omnibus we are considering on the floor this very week,” he said.
Goodlatte then waded into hot-button territory for advocates of District autonomy. He read for his colleagues Section 446 of the Home Rule Act, which lays out the budget process that D.C. voters supported amending last April. The amendment survived a 35-day congressional review period, became law and was enacted Jan. 1, but its practical fate remains in limbo.
Echoing House Republican leaders who have dismissed its legal standing, Goodlatte said the entire budget for the District of Columbia, including revenues generated by local sources, must be approved by Congress.
“Clearly, Congress bears constitutional responsibility for the use of these funds, and so Congress bears a responsibility to protect the innocent lives of unborn children in the nation’s capital,” he said.
In support of his amendment, Conyers said just because Congress can interfere in local matters doesn’t mean it should.
“Would any member of this committee support provisions that singled out Texas, or Virginia or Iowa for restrictions on the use of their own funds?” Conyers asked. “We’d never tolerate Congress trampling over the rights of local government in our own states.”
The committee eventually rejected his amendment, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act was favorably reported to the House.
Norton called Goodlatte’s interpretation of Congress’ responsibility for D.C. “false,” telling CQ Roll Call that although the District is not a state, it gained responsibility for its funds and its policy in 1973, under the Home Rule Act.
DC Vote, an influential organization helping lead the District’s fight for expanded autonomy from Congress, also asserted that the Home Rule Act makes D.C. a democracy.
“While Congress may still have oversight authority for D.C., it should respect the authority it granted to D.C. and remain out of local affairs,” Kimberly Perry, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Oversight does not mean Congress should feel free to pick and choose the local issues they will intervene on and which they will not. It is disrespectful and insulting to the voters and residents of the District that take much pride in the small measure of local democracy we actually have.”