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Analysis: Congress Debates D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program

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David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

The future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is once again being debated on Capitol Hill, but this time against the backdrop of a presidential election. The program provides vouchers for some students in the District to attend private or parochial schools, and its funding has varied with power shifts on Capitol Hill. But this week Senate Democrats on the appropriations committee voted to expand funding for the program contrary to a proposal from President Obama and more in line with the vision of his Republican rival. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, has more on the story. Following are highlights of his analysis.

On what the appropriations committee actually did: "The very basic thing is that Congress has to approve the District's budget. There is some talk in Congress about creating some budget autonomy for the District... but in the meantime, this bill moves every year. It is the federal government's contribution to Washington... Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to approve that money, and they decided to give the D.C. voucher program another $13.5 million. There was a deal several years ago to give $20 million a year. This is obviously less than that, but it's more than zero, which is what the president wanted."

On the significance of the deal for Democrats on the committee: "I think in the grand scheme of the federal budget, it's a small matter. Remember, this is all going to end up in a giant budget bill at the end of the year, where many people--except you and me--may not even remember this money is in there because it's a tiny sliver of money in a huge bill. But it is a break. The Democrats are going to say it's not that big a break because they agreed to this program several years ago, and they're just making good on their commitment."

On how Mitt Romney's win in the election would impact the D.C. voucher program: "If he were elected, he would propose the full $20 million, even a bit more. And there would be some pressure to do that. I would say in the fullness of time, this program seems to have a good long-term commitment from Congress. The Democrats don't really seem to be willing to fight this anymore."

Listen to the full analysis here.

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