Congresswoman: Budget Bears Bad News For Nation's Capital
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Thanks to Allison Keyes for sitting in while I was away.
Later in the program, we are going to go to France where, starting today, women can be fined for wearing those full-face coverings that some Muslim women wear. We'll find out how the law is being enforced, and we'll hear two strong views about whether this is a reasonable and appropriate step in support of French values or a violation of the rights and dignity of some women. We'll have that conversation in a few minutes.
But first, the White House and Congress will spend another week hammering out a way to fund the government through the rest of this fiscal year. On Wednesday, President Obama is also expected to lay out his long-term plan for reducing the deficit. This comes as Republicans are calling for even more cuts.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" this Sunday, House Budget Committee chairman - House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said the $38 billion in cuts for this year were really a drop in the bucket and that Congress needs to cut back even more on spending.
Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): The president is proposing to keep government as large as it's ever been forever. We don't think the answer to prosperity is borrowing and spending more money. We've got to get our spending under control because that's the root cause of our problem. And, yes, if you get deficit reduction and the debt under control, that's going to help the economy today.
MARTIN: The budget deal reached late Friday night was achieved at the cost of record spending cuts, as we said, and the imposition of new spending restrictions on the nation's capital. In a moment, we will speak with a woman who represents the half-a-million D.C. residents in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton.
But first, to NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, who's here with me in the studio. Ron, thanks for joining us.
RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: Now, the shutdown was averted at literally the 11th hour on Friday night. What do we know about the negotiations? What led to the breakthrough of the logjam?
ELVING: Precious little, really, because all they agreed upon was a number and what's called a bridge C.R. to push us another week. That's all that's really been agreed upon in detail.
Where exactly the money is going to come from is really quite vague. We know there's supposed to be $20 billion cut from what are called discretionary programs, that's about 12 percent of the total federal budget, and another $18 billion from what are called mandatory programs. That can get into things that have multi-year kinds of funding.
But very little on defense, absolutely nothing on the revenue side, and this is really going back to the well that all the cutting that's been up to now has been taken from, always going back to those discretionary programs.
And we don't know which ones are going to take what kind of a hit except that everything except defense is going to get a $1 billion haircut across all those programs. Then how that gets distributed beyond that is still kind of a mystery.
MARTIN: Later this week, the president is expected to lay out a plan for reducing the deficit. Now, earlier this year, we heard from this - a commission, a high-powered commission that he had assembled to advise him on this question. But then we heard very little after that. So do we know anything about what the president's going to say? Is he going to draw from the work of the commission that we've reported on earlier?
ELVING: That is what we are hearing from his adviser, David Plouffe, and from others in the White House that the president is going to reach back to that commission, known as the Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson Commission, the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which recommended a more balanced program than others that we have seen.
There's a great deal of pain in it for a great number of the people who rely on the federal government for virtually anything. But that budget that they proposed also had considerable increases in revenues for the future years in order to try to move the country toward a more balanced budget.
The president did not fully embrace it, although he did take some elements of it into his own budget. And I think we may see more of it embraced on Wednesday night. I shouldn't say Wednesday night. We don't know if it's going to be afternoon or night.
MARTIN: Ron Elving is NPR senior Washington editor. I'm going to ask him to stand by as I introduce our next guest, also here in our Washington, D.C. studio, Washington, D.C.'s congressional representative Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The District of Columbia, the nation's capital, was strongly affected, and according to local officials blindsided by the budget deal, which includes a provision preventing the district from spending its own locally generated tax money to pay for abortions for low-income women.
It also includes a controversial private-school voucher program. Critics of this particular program have said it has not led to enough measurable success and diverts relatively large sums to a relatively small group of students.
This was mandated in this budget deal, as we understand it, and D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who I should mention does get a vote in committee but does not have the right to vote on the House floor, is with us now to tell us more about it. Welcome back to you, as well. Thank you for joining us, once again.
Ms. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (Delegate to Congress, Democrat, District of Columbia): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Now, as I understand it that social conservatives, mainly on the Republican side in the House, had sought to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization, to bar federal funding for this organization. These clinics perform a large number of abortions nationwide.
They did not succeed, but they did reinstate a ban on the district using its own tax money to pay for abortions for poor women. Your office sent out a blistering statement about this over the weekend. What offends you the most about this deal?
Ms. NORTON: What offends me the most I think will offend most Americans. We are now talking here not about spending. This whole exercise was about reducing federal spending.
Now, your listeners will be shocked to know that D.C. spending or D.C. - not spending but D.C.'s budget is anywhere close to the Congress. We don't have autonomy over our own local budget. And that goes back to 150 years and frankly was the work of Democrats, mostly Southern Democrats, who kept us from having home rule.
So for only for 38 years have we had home rule, and we do run the city. And Congress lets us do that unless they don't want to. And in this case, our local budget is over there, having been passed last spring, balanced by the D.C. Council, having been passed last summer by the appropriators but hung up there with all the other appropriations and not literally been signed off, as it were, by the Congress.
So the social conservatives, having not been able to make inroads into Planned Parenthood, and let me say I am very glad they didn't, Planned Parenthood serves modest- and low-income women all across the district and across the country, apparently went for what they thought was the defenseless District of Columbia, even though Democrats control two-thirds of the elected leadership of the federal government.
Somehow or the other, after I got this terrible what we call rider or attachment removed during the four years of Democratic control, now a U-turn, and they come back, and they say: Well, you wouldn't give us anything else on reproductive choice. You can surely give us the District of Columbia, because that's under your control. And they threw us away.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask Ron Elving about this because Delegate Norton's statement strongly faults both Democrats and the White House for acquiescing to this, even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate. And her, you know, argument is that this is a violation of, you know, the rights of this jurisdiction, even though Republicans have, in the past, imposed this restriction.
Her argument is that they threw the district under the bus, and I'd like to ask you: Why would they?
ELVING: They did it in order to get a deal is the only thing I think you can say. And they did it because they felt that this was the way that they appeased those on the House Republican side who were negotiating for that last third that, as the congresswoman mentioned, is in Republican hands and was poised to keep this entire deal from going through.
They were pushing for the big one, Planned Parenthood, and knowing perhaps all along that what they would wind up with would be what they had four years ago, before the congresswoman and others went to work and removed that punitive, really, provision that applies only to the District of Columbia, which they can do, and they do it because they can do it.
But - and the same thing is true with the school voucher program. They have special powers over the district that date way back, as she said, into American history. So they threw that one in there knowing that it would be the sort of thing that they could negotiate for in the last moment.
There were other things similar, including one program that - they held off riders that would have hampered the EPA with respect to some big issues. But then they gave up one particular species from Montana, the gray wolf. They said: Well, okay, you can go ahead and take that off the Endangered Species List. Really small things like that to the nation, but very important things to people who live in the District of Columbia.
Ms. NORTON: Now, let me just clarify one thing. They really control one-half of one-third of the government because they barely control the House. So we really control - Democrats control most of the elected government.
Now look what the Democrats gave them. They got about 80 percent of the spending cuts they wanted. The reason we think they surely could have held the line is that they gave them so much of what they really wanted, and what they really wanted was federal spending cuts.
Having given them that, to then give them the district - and we're still not clear, is it going to be even more that they give them in this package?
MARTIN: Let me ask you this. You've long advocated voting rights for the District of Columbia, which is to say at least a vote in the Congress, on the House floor. You are only - if the district were to have that, it would be only one vote. Why do you think that would have made a difference?
Ms. NORTON: It would have made a huge difference. Just think about it, this is going to come to the floor of the House. Every member of the House will be able to vote on a matter of deep concern to the District of Columbia except the representative from the District of Columbia.
I don't claim that one vote could turn the tide. I do claim that it's shameful to have anything affecting the District of Columbia on the House floor when the member from the district has no vote whatsoever on that matter.
MARTIN: Do you feel there's any recourse in this case? I understand it's a bitter pill to swallow on a number of levels. And you also mentioned in your statement over the weekend that you were never consulted by anybody about this. No local official was. So is there any recourse?
Ms. NORTON: Well, I have been in touch with the administration all along, with the Senate leadership all along, and they told me, and I think they were trying to hold on. I said: Watch out because they're coming after us.
There better be some recourse. I want to - I have already talked to the chief of staff, Bill Daley, the president yesterday. I'm going to be talking to others in the administration. I don't even know the - what this is. This are just names.
We think that there is some - that they're trying to keep us from spending our own funds on abortion for poor women. Well, are they going to make that permanent? I mean, there are some things we need to talk about, and my own folks are going at 5 o'clock today in front of - D.C. residents, our local organization, D.C. Voters, have organized D.C. residents to come out and picket the Senate today at 5 o'clock. So people are up and fighting.
MARTIN: All right. Eleanor Holmes Norton is a Democrat who represents Washington, D.C. in the Congress. She is currently serving her 11th term. As we mentioned, she sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Ron Elving is NPR senior Washington editor. They were both here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. I thank you both so much for joining us.
ELVING: Thank you, Michel.
Ms. NORTON: Thanks.
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MARTIN: Coming up, a French law goes into effect today banning women from wearing the burqa or niqab, both face coverings worn by some Muslim women. We'll hear the latest from Paris and hear from two Muslim women with strongly opposing views.
That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
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