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Congress Grants D.C. Temporary Spending Authority

Gray and Norton's Persistence Pays Off

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/23/2013, 3 p.m.
The District of Columbia scored a significant but temporary victory last week when the Obama administration and Congress freed up ...
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, accompanied by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and others, makes his case for fiscal autonomy on Capitol Hill during the recent 16-day federal government shutdown. Gray and Norton were able to extract a one-year deal from Congress. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

The District of Columbia scored a significant but temporary victory last week when the Obama administration and Congress freed up the city’s local funds and agreed to allow city officials to spend its revenue unfettered for fiscal year 2014.

The bill is part of the continuing resolution Democratic and Republican leaders hammered out to end the 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government.

Right-wing and Tea Party Republicans succeeded in shutting down government operations on Oct. 1 and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), in response, refused to close down the city and declared all District employees “essential.”

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said a combination of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and negotiating, a coalition of allies in high places and Gray’s decision all played a role in securing this partial victory.

“It is a breakthrough that took us out of the agony of running out of money now and in three months,” said Norton, during an interview Monday, Oct. 21. “Over the course of the Columbus Day weekend, I worked at very high levels with the White House, Senate and Republicans and out of that came this bill.”

“Our goal was to get full 2014 authorization. I convinced Republicans that for us to come back, it would cost them time and us time and money. I thank our friends in the administration, Senate and House who worked double-time with me as the end-game approached to avoid a half loaf-authorization to spend our local funds for only the three-month continuing resolution.”

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

Chuck Thies, a local commentator and political consultant, said while Congress’ capricious behavior angers him, he finds it ironic that Republicans played such a seminal role in the process.

“It’s a good thing. What it means is that the current budget is approved and we’re free to spend money that’s been approved. It’s a step in the right direction,” said Thies, a longtime District resident. “This allows local government at least for the next year to operate. If this nonsense happens again, D.C. won’t be any different than Bethesda or Alexandria.”

“Mayor Gray deserves great credit. If he hadn’t confronted Reid, it wouldn’t have happened. We should be celebrating. It’s a victory but it’s by no means permanent or absolute and it’s not just a political victory for Gray. If [Congress] wanted it to last forever, they’d have written the law that way. D.C. has been a political football; it depends on the political agenda.”

For many Congressional conservatives who are young, up-and-coming and from far-away districts, the city is an easy mark to score political points by passing bills to oppose guns, medical marijuana and needle exchanges, Thies, 48, said. “It’s an easy way to make a statement. You come out against the District spending its own money on abortions, for example, and you’re a hero back home.”