Government Shutdown Ensnares D.C.

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/15/2013, 10:31 a.m.
As the partial shutdown of the federal government moves into its third week, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said the ...
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (Courtesy of mayor.dc.gov)

As the partial shutdown of the federal government moves into its third week, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said the city remains open for business adding that he remains optimistic despite the deadlock.

Gray has used every opportunity and a range of bully pulpits since the Oct. 1 shutdown not just to explain the damage caused by the suspension of government operations but also to advocate passionately for the District to gain the right to spend the tax money and other revenue it raises.

Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, Congress doesn’t allow the District to spend any of these taxes and fees generated by the city without prior Congressional approval. Gray said he and the city’s 632,000 residents chafe under the oppressive and undemocratic provisions that are inflicted on the District of Columbia.

“We feel like we’re pawns in a chess game I don’t believe we should be involved in,” Gray said during an interview Saturday morning. “It’s unconscionable that the District is treated this way when it comes to spending our own money. We’re not part of the federal government – this is the money of the taxpayers of the District of Columbia.”

"We are facing very dire consequences if Congress and the president do not act soon to free us to spend our own local tax dollars in the midst of this stalemate. These are consequences that no other city or state has to face."

The mayor, who is approaching the end of his first term, said he’s grown increasingly impatient and concerned about the shutdown.

“The shutdown isn’t a good idea because I don’t see anything good coming out of it,” Gray said. “[However,] we’re still open for business. It isn’t a question of if we have the money, it’s the ability to spend our own tax dollars. We have a budget but we can’t access it. It’s having such a negative impact. We’re making as much available to people as we can so that they can keep working.”

“We’re getting to the point where we are exhausting every dollar legally available to us.”

Last Wednesday afternoon, Gray clashed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) when he confronted him and demanded a Senate vote that would allow the District to spend its own money. Gray was on Capitol Hill with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton at a rally near the U.S. Senate. All were voicing their opposition to the shutdown, and Gray took the opportunity to encourage local residents to join the rallying cry against the federal government’s actions. Reid had participated in a Senate press conference nearby when their paths crossed.

The District finds itself in the surreal situation of having Issa support D.C.’s right to manage its fiscal affairs and Reid on the other side of the fence.

"I'm on your side," Reid hissed as he walked away. “Don't screw it up, OK. I'm on your side."

Gray said the House passed a bill that would free D.C. spending but the Senate has refused to take up the bill.