- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2011

A D.C. spending bill passed a Senate committee on Thursday without any amendments that would restrict local officials from spending city money on controversial social programs.

The full Senate Committee on Appropriations steered clear of city affairs in its debate over the financial services bill that contains federal funding for the District’s courts and other programs.

The outcome had been expected, yet D.C.-rights advocates worried about last-minute interference in local affairs.

In the end, the committee voted in favor of the bill, 16-14, along party lines.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said he was “a little bit surprised” to see all of the Republican members vote against the bill.

“I didn’t see that coming, that it would be a partisan matter to bring this appropriation bill before this committee,” Mr. Durbin, chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Services, said. “But apparently it is, and perhaps some of the amendments will shed some light on why it’s become a partisan bill. … I’m not quite sure I understand that.”

The five amendments offered by members concerned trade with Cuba, consumer protection regulations, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, health insurance and business regulations, leaving D.C. affairs alone.

An informal survey by The Washington Times prior to the hearing did not turn up evidence of “riders” that would restrict D.C. programs.

“We don’t give out good news until it happens,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s lone voice in Congress, said during a recess between the first and last pair of amendments.

A rider to prevent the District from using federal and local dollars to fund abortions for low-income women was included in a short-term spending measure in April and also submitted by the House Appropriations Committee over the summer.

The House bill also forbids the District from using federal dollars for its medical marijuana program or needle exchange.

The Senate bill cuts its funding to the District by nearly 6 percent compared to fiscal year 2011, part of across-the-board cuts to federal agencies and programs.

By comparison, the House bill cuts funding to the District by almost 10 percent.

Mrs. Norton is already anticipating her next battle with House Republicans this fall when a short-term spending resolution introduced on Wednesday expires Nov. 18.

The District’s authority to spend local dollars expires with it, setting up a possible government shutdown similar to the one D.C. residents faced in April.

President Obama included a provision that would allow the District to spend its own funds for the rest of the fiscal year in his submission of the continuing resolution. The measure, however, did not pass the House Rules Committee.