Spending Deal Gives D.C. Budget Autonomy Advocates Hope

Posted October 17, 2013 at 10:32am

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton heaped praise on her Democratic allies in the Senate and some key Republicans Wednesday night for including a budget autonomy fix for Washington, D.C., in their spending deal.

Immediately after the House’s 285-144 vote on the short-term compromise, the D.C. Democrat thanked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for his “critical help” working out a deal that allows the District to spend its local funds and remain open for all of fiscal 2014 as part of the bill to reopen the federal government through Jan. 15, 2014.

Norton’s shout out also included Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del.

On the House side, she praised Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., for “spearheading the effort and working to achieve this breakthrough.”Just last week, Norton and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray were criticizing Senate Democrats for refusing to take up a bill to give the District the ability to spend its funds during the shutdown. Norton also confronted the president personally about it.

But she said she spent the Columbus Day weekend in talks with members of President Barack Obama’s administration and her congressional friends, working “double-time” to avoid what she called a “half loaf” solution that would only allow the city to spend its local funds for the three-month duration of the continuing resolution.

“A boomerang solution putting D.C. back in the federal government’s fiscal mess in January was beyond unacceptable,” she said. “This authority to spend our local funds for the full fiscal year, although the federal government is open only through Jan. 15, 2014, is a historic first. But residents must see more than a reprieve from this year’s serial federal shutdown brinks. We must now make use of the damage done by moving on all fronts for full budget autonomy.”

Gray also weighed in shortly after the bill was sent to the president, thanking Norton and other congressional allies, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, for “recognizing the District’s unique plight and that it is completely unjust for the District to be barred from spending our own local revenues during a federal shutdown.”

The 16-day shutdown that began Oct. 1 put the city in unprecedented territory. During the 21-day shutdown in the winter of 1995 and 1996, Congress and President Bill Clinton worked out an agreement to allow D.C. to spend its own money to resume local operations and services after five days.

The District maintained operations during this year’s shutdown by tapping previously-authorized contingency funds to pay city workers, but Gray and other local officials had sounded the alarm that those resources were quickly draining.

The shutdown caused the city to miss a $74-million payment due to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority at the beginning of the month, which it is now required to pay back with interest, according to Gray.

“As Congress has now recognized, the District is not a federal agency, and our residents, visitors and businesses should not be forced to endure extreme hardships no other city or state in our nation has to face as a result of these standoffs,” Gray said. “We are the only place in the country where shutdowns of the federal government threaten basic city services and where Medicaid providers, public charter schools, and our regional transit system are faced with significant financial hardship or even ruin because we are prohibited from spending our own money.”