Published July 16, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The District of Columbia government could fund abortions for the poor and take steps toward legalizing marijuana for medical purposes under a spending bill passed by the House on Thursday.
The measure also would force General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC to restore franchise agreements with the approximately 3,000 dealerships that they cut loose as part of restructuring plans approved by bankruptcy courts. The White House and the two companies oppose the idea, saying it would get in the way of the effort to return them to profitability.
The measure passed by a narrow 219-208 margin, with many anti-abortion Democrats voting against it because of the move by Democratic leaders to permit the D.C. government to use locally raised tax revenues to provide abortions -- reversing a long-standing ban imposed by Congress.
The bill also paves the way for the D.C. government to legalize medical marijuana, establish a needle exchange program for intravenous drug users to prevent the spread of HIV, and begins to phase out a school voucher program for D.C. students that's popular with Republicans. Republicans were blocked from being able to vote on reversing the Democratic moves.
The measure provides $768 million in federal money for the D.C. government. During GOP control of Congress, Republicans routinely used Congress' authority over the District to impose conservative social policies on the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
The measure also funds the Treasury Department and White House budgets. It would reduce the budget for the government's anti-drug media campaign from $70 million to just $20 million, citing studies that question its effectiveness. It also contains significant increases for the Securities and Exchange Commission to police the financial markets.
Earlier, a key House panel adopted a $636 billion measure for the Pentagon that deals a big setback to Obama's plans to reshape the Defense Department's procurement budget
In approving the bill, the Appropriations defense subcommittee disregarded Obama's attempts to cease production of the F-22 fighter and a badly over-budget new presidential helicopter.
The defense bill unveiled Thursday represented a sharp rebuke of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' efforts to kill weapons systems such as the F-22 fighter, the VH-71 presidential helicopter, the C-17 cargo jet, and an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The measure contained funding for each program, though defense subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., only provided $369 million for the F-22, which he said would go mostly for spare parts. The $485 million for the presidential helicopter project would try to salvage five to seven aircraft after spending more than $3.2 billion.
"You can't just cancel programs and not get anything out of them," Murtha said.
Murtha said more money for the wars would probably have to be appropriated next spring, depending on how well things are going in Afghanistan.