EDITORIAL: Gray and the Government Shutdown

10/9/2013, 3 p.m.
Mayor Vincent Gray is to be commended for his decision to buck Congress and the federal government and declare District ...
Photo by Victor Holt

Mayor Vincent Gray is to be commended for his decision to buck Congress and the federal government and declare District employees “essential."

On Sept. 27, Gray announced that despite potential problems from the Office of Management and Budget, all District government operations would continue and employees would report to work. This despite the beginning of the new federal fiscal year on October 1, and Congress struggling to agree on a federal spending bill.

Unlike federal employees, D.C.’s workers will not have to face the worrying prospect of not being able to pay their bills and take care of other obligations.

Gray’s decision put in stark context the vagaries of federal law that in 2013 still prohibits lawmakers in the Nation’s Capital to handle their own fiscal affairs. The District of Columbia is just one example of the hollowness of the word freedom as it relates to autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Every year, billions of dollars of local tax money is siphoned off and sent to the federal government. Yet the D.C. Council has to receive permission from Congress to spend its own money. Still, in this and similar cases, the city is treated like a federal agency when the national government shuts down.

Thus far, neither the Office of Management and Budget nor the White House has raised any objections to Gray’s move, although we suspect that they have far more weighty issues to deal with as the partial government shutdown enters its second week.

Gray, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and all who desire D.C. statehood and fiscal autonomy have been tireless in their attempts to persuade Congress to do the right thing and release the District from the chains that bind it. No one wants to be the lab rat used by faux-social engineers who can’t get certain legislation passed in their home districts but they have no problem foisting these often half-baked ideas on an unsuspecting populace.

No one likes the idea of having strangers who don’t know the District, its people or our norms and mores telling us what’s appropriate for us with regard to guns, medical marijuana, the issue of abortions and all manner of social and cultural issues. It’s undemocratic and it’s dead wrong.

But as we see the shutdown playing out, it is clear that a fragment of one chamber of Congress is tone-deaf. They exist in an echo chamber, only hear what they choose to and ignore the rest.

We agree with Mayor Gray that it’s unconscionable that a body unable to handle its own finances should be telling us how to handle ours. If and when Congress passes an appropriations bill – the first since 2009 – that would be a good first step.

Only in the bubble that is Washington politics does it make sense that a legislative body that represents a country founded on certain freedoms and inalienable rights would deny its capital city the freedom that other states and municipalities enjoy. And only in Washington would a few hundred lawmakers have no problem with the sons and daughters of the District being sent to the far corners of the world to defend and die for a democracy that doesn’t exist here in this city.

Those in Congress, who need further proof of our ability to handle our finances, need look no further than the fact that as Mayor Gray pointed out in his weekly address last week, the city has balanced its budget for 18 consecutive years and it has more than a billion dollars in the bank.

Despite the city’s second-class status in their eyes, Congress could learn a financial thing or two from the District of Columbia.