By Emma Dumain
Roll Call Staff
Plans to mark up legislation Wednesday to give budget autonomy to the District of Columbia were derailed after a Republican Senator said he planned to offer amendments that would roll back some of the District’s gun laws.
Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee were confident they could defeat a number of amendments offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), including one that would ban federal funding for abortions in D.C.
But there was less certainty about whether they would be able to block two other Paul amendments related to guns; a number of pro-gun-rights Democrats sit on the committee.
Ultimately, senior lawmakers, in consultation with local officials and activists, decided they would be better off canceling the markup than taking the chance that they would not be able to send a “clean” bill to the Senate floor.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman had told Roll Call on Tuesday afternoon that he was hoping to move forward as planned with the bill, which he has sponsored and which would unlink D.C.’s budget from the Congressional appropriations process.
The Connecticut Independent said he was hopeful that negotiations with Paul would allow for a package of amendments to come up for a committee vote — excluding one that would let D.C. residents obtain concealed-carry permits for handguns and allow concealed-carry permits from other states to be recognized in the city.
“It’s still alive,” Lieberman said late Tuesday afternoon. “I want very much to [mark up the bill] because it’s the right, fair thing to do.”
But shortly after those statements, officials sent around a revised agenda for the committee markup, and the bill was no longer on it.
Local activists, officials and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) have substantive objections to Paul’s proposals but also view them as infringements on the Home Rule Act of 1973, which gave the city more latitude to set its own laws and regulations.
“We are deeply offended by Sen. Paul’s stunning hypocrisy,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote. “Congress has the power to do things around the country, and Paul has repeatedly stated he’s against government taking those steps — except, clearly, now in the District of Columbia.”
While it is not yet clear whether Senators will take another path toward consideration of D.C. budget autonomy, the setback recalls similar fates that D.C. autonomy bills have suffered at the hands of Congress.
In 2007, the House was able to pass a rider-free D.C. voting rights bill after initial concern that a policy rider loosening D.C.’s gun restrictions would be included; the Senate failed to garner enough votes on a motion to proceed to consideration of the legislation.
In 2009, the Senate passed another incarnation of a bill to give D.C. a vote in Congress — with another gun provision. Unable to remove the language in the House, Democratic leadership first prevented the bill from moving to the chamber floor, then pulled the legislation once it had already been scheduled for consideration.
Though the gun policy riders are the latest hurdles for supporters of D.C. budget autonomy, stakeholders have been more concerned about the inclusion of anti-abortion language in any measure to be considered by the Republican-controlled House.
The influential National Right to Life Committee has indicated it would score any D.C. budget autonomy legislation taken up by the chamber for its anti-abortion language. Even House GOP leaders who have expressed interest in moving a D.C. budget measure have hinted that a ban on federal funding for abortions in the District would have to be part of the deal.
Spokesmen for Paul and Norton did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
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