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Friday, April 8, 2011

Budget Cuts Includes DC Abortion rider,And School Vouchers program,

Budget deal includes D.C. abortion rider, money for school vouchers
By Ben Pershing

The spending deal agreed to Friday night to avert a government shutdown includes a provision banning the District from spending its own funds to provide abortions to low-income women as well as funding to continue a controversial school voucher program, according to Democratic and Republican sources familiar with the agreement.

The inclusion of the abortion policy “rider” represents a victory for Republicans, who previously imposed such a ban when they controlled Congress and who included the provision in the version of the continuing resolution passed by the House in February. And it marks a sharp defeat for D.C. leaders, who fought to keep the ban out of a deal.

Leading Democrats said repeatedly in the hours leading up to the deal that they would not accept a larger prohibition on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and they appear to have been successful in that goal. But District activists have feared for weeks that Democrats might concede on the D.C. ban in order to pave the way for excluding the Planned Parenthood ban.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) wrote a letter to President Obama last month expressing her fear that the District rider would be used as “a bargaining chip” and warning: “If any D.C. riders are included in the CR, that acquiescence by Democrats will make it nearly impossible to argue that they should be kept out of the fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 spending bills.”

On Friday night, before the details of the final deal became clear, Norton said, “We are in great danger of becoming bargained as we feared, despite my conversation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a few days ago, and the many conversations I have had with the Administration.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — which provides low-income District students with federal money to attend private schools — is a top priority of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The program was closed to new entrants by Democrats in 2009, but Boehner has sought to add more than $2 million in extra money to the continuing resolution for the program this year, and that funding is in the spending deal reached Friday night.

Boehner is also pushing a separate bill to reauthorize the program for five more years. That bill has passed the House but not the Senate.

The scholarship program is opposed by Norton and Mayor Vincent Gray, but backed by City Council Chairman Kwame Brown and former mayors Anthony Williams and Marion Barry.

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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