The District of Columbia’s top elected officials, both Democrats, find themselves siding with House Republicans in one of the oddities of the battle over the federal government shutdown.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Oct. 9 that the federal shutdown threatens D.C. unfairly, cutting off access to millions of District-raised tax dollars because the Anti-Deficency Act treats D.C. as a federal agency during the federal shutdown.
“Sir, we are not a department of the government,” the mayor told Reid during the Senate Democrat’s new conference on the Capitol grounds where Reid and other Senate Democrats were talking to reporters. “We’re simply trying to be able to spend our own money.”
If access is not granted soon, through a bill that would exempt the city from the shutdown, D.C. will be unable to make payments for a number of services, Gray and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) have been telling Senate Democrats and White House officials.
Once the city’s estimated $140 million in reserves are spent, it will mean payments for key operations—such as payments for Medicare, Metro transit contributions and the operations of D.C.’s charter schools—won’t be made, forcing local shutdowns.
Friendship Charter Schools, for instance is due a $100 million quarterly payment from the District. ”If nothing is done by Oct. 15, we’ll feel the effects right away,” Donald Hense, CEO of Friendship Schools, told the AFRO.
In the Oct. 9 exchange, Gray urged the Senate leader to allow a Senate vote on a House-passed bill to exempt D.C. operations from the shutdown. Unless exempted the city can’t spend its money.
In a statement caught by news media microphones, Reid told Gray, “I’m on your side. Don’t screw it up, okay?”
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the city’s non-voting voice in Congress has echoed Gray’s assertions to Senate Democrats.
The efforts by the two highest ranking D.C. elected officials are being applauded by House Republicans who chided Senate Democrats for resisting a vote on what Reid calls a piecemeal approach to re-opening the government.
“These taxes are paid by the District of Columbia and entrusted to your elected officials,” Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has said.
“For us, it’s not a game,” Gray said later. “It has deadly serious consequences for thousands, thousands of our most vulnerable residents.”
“In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown. Families in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas are not worried that their local governments won’t be able to maintain basic services like schools, police and fire protection, or trash collection—and neither should families here in the District of Columbia,” Gray said in a statement.
In remarks delivered at the Friendship Charter School campus Oct. 10, Gray told a cheering audience, "Most charter don’t have sufficient cash reserve to ride this out.”
“They will have to begin delaying paychecks to teachers as well as principals….some schools may even have to take a financial hit [from] which they won’t be able to recover,” Gray said.
In the 1995 federal government shutdown over a budget impasse between the president and Congress the city was exempted from the shutdown after five days, former President Bill Clinton agreed to allow the District to spend its own money to resume local operations and services.
President Obama has not addressed the D.C. dilemma in this shutdown.
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