- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

D.C. leaders say they cannot support a Republican proposal on Capitol Hill that would give the city greater control over its budget process yet ban local funding for elective abortions.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and others came to their conclusion about 48 hours after Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, released draft legislation that would allow the District to start its fiscal year on July 1 and spend its money without waiting for Congress to settle its federal budgetary issues. However, the bill included the abortion clause in a effort to win over Hill Republicans who may have objected to the plan had it not included the ban.

Mr. Gray, City Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton — the District’s non-voting member of Congress — reached a consensus that they could not accept the bill’s terms, despite their gratitude to Mr. Issa for following through on a plan he signaled in May before his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I think we know a poison pill when we taste it,” Mr. Gray said Wednesday, adding the decision was “agonizing.”

“It was just too hard to swallow,” the mayor added.

A ban on locally funded abortions tucked into a last-minute spending measure in April outraged city leaders and led to a protest on Capitol Hill at which Mr. Gray, a Democrat, and several council members were arrested. The new proposal would have made the ban permanent, yet it included long-sought flexibility in how the District spends its own money.

The District’s leaders tried Monday and Tuesday to collectively accept the deal, with the Gray administration at one point even considering whether it could privately raise funds to cover the abortion clause, an official said.

In the end, opposition to the bill was about the District’s principles and avoiding further federal interference, Mr. Gray said.

“It’s about what the city should be able to do, just like everyone else,” he said.

Mr. Gray said Mr. Issa wanted to mark up the bill this week, prompting Mr. Gray, Mr. Brown and Mrs. Norton to say they would be “strongly opposed to it if it were introduced.”

Congress can go ahead with its bill if it chooses, yet Mr. Issa appeared to give deference to the District’s opinion and has fostered a spirit of cooperation. Earlier this month, he pulled a bill that would impose restrictions on the District’s hiring practices after Mr. Brown told him the city was considering its own reforms.

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Mr. Issa’s committee, said the next steps for the budget-autonomy bill “have yet to be been determined.”

City leaders said the proposed legislation shows progress in negotiating with House leadership, though Mr. Issa had to consider the demands of his colleagues.

“We recognize that the abortion provision is what Chairman Issa believed would be necessary to get the bill passed in the House,” Mr. Gray, Mr. Brown and Mrs. Norton said in a joint statement. “But the views of others should not prevail over the views of our own residents.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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