With contingency funds running low and the shutdown of the D.C. government looming, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Vincent Gray took the budget battle directly to Congress. During a news conference on the Capitol grounds Wednesday, Gray and Norton demanded that the House and Senate free the city’s budget from the federal shutdown.
To keep the city running, officials tapped into the contingency (or reserve) fund – money set aside for unforeseen events such as natural disasters. By weeks end, the reserve money could be exhausted.
Although the District of Columbia’s budget is free of federally appropriated dollars, Congress treats the city as a federal agency. As such, the local D.C. government cannot spend its own money without congressional approval.
“I stand on these grounds of the U.S. Congress, said Gray, to say that we need both houses of Congress and the president to act now to avert further consequences and the negative impact to District of Columbia residents, employees and visitors who are suffering because of our lack of budget autonomy.
“We deserve to be able to spend our own money; the District of Columbia residents’ own money.”
Gray said those words as Senate Majority Harry Reid and members of the Senate held a news conference at the steps of the Capitol a short distance away. Yesterday, Gray sent a letter to President Obama, Reid and John Boehner demanding a meeting on freeing the city's budget and the consequences of a city shutdown.
Norton openly criticized democrats and the administration for allowing the city to become entangled in the federal budget circus.
“Congressional Democrats and the democratic administration, who had been our best friends, acted deliberately and willfully to ensure that the District of Columbia government, an innocent bystander, was brought into the present folly and held captive,” Norton said.
“The Senate’s current hold on the city’s budget is absurd,” she continued.
Norton’s effort to free D.C.’s budget from congress has some support on the Republican side of the aisle. Norton praised the efforts of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Darrell Issa (R-CA) on behalf of the city. Issa lobbied members of both sides in support of a bill to free the D.C. appropriation.
Rep. Issa attended Wednesday’s news conference and voiced his support for a D.C. budget free of congressional intrusion.
“I cannot help but notice that your [D.C.] license plates say ‘taxation without representation,” Issa noted. “Perhaps they should say ‘federal government don’t treat on me’ instead. The fact is that representation of your taxes is essentially what we have before us today. These are taxes paid by the people of the District of Columbia to the city government. These are your money, which are entrusted to your elected officials.”
Issa said that the freeing of D.C.’s budget “should not be a partisan issue.” He asked Leader Reid to bring the issue to the floor for a vote and said that he would work to gain senate Republican support for the measure.
Correction: This article was edited to accurately reflect the spelling of Rep. Issa's name.