Will our town shutdown for ‘This Town’?

September 25, 2013

Under a shutdown, trash collection in the city would end for at least a week — Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

The bell has rung for the next round in the ‘This Town’ versus ‘our town’ bout.  While the nation braces for the possibility of a government shutdown next week, thanks to yet more political gridlock on Capitol Hill,   Mayor Gray and the D.C. council are considering an unprecedented act of defiance: some city services would be halted due to a shutdown and local officials have said that they will keep those services flowing if federal lawmakers can’t find a solution. (For the uninitiated: should Congress fail to extend spending authorization beyond the current limit of Sept. 30, the city government would be legally bound to curtail all but essential services).

Rebuffing Congress is a move the city must make. I’ve criticized lawmakers in this space before for making too much of a ceremonial sideshow out of the  taxation without representation debate. But, by openly calling Congress’ bluff about one of the most unfair of all the restrictions the District has put on it-  budget autonomy- city officials are making the discussion over DC’s lack of true freedom very specific.

Why should the city be forced to shut down because people we didn’t even elect refuse to be civil toward one another? The issues of statehood, congressional representation are all far more pie-in-the-sky concepts than the right to spend one’s own money, especially when looking at the possibility of trash piling up around the city and libraries being closed.  For all the bad behavior borderline scumbag stuff we’ve seen from members of this council over the past five years, as a resident and a native, defying Congress on this issue is something I could applaud a public official for going to jail over.

In a statement yesterday, David Grosso, (I-At-Large), made his stance clear. “A shutdown, imposed by the federal government, with no pay for D.C. workers, will make it impossible for many D.C. employees to pay their bills and feed their families. It is offensive that the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is telling the D.C. government how to spend the money we raised through taxing D.C. residents and businesses,” he wrote. “D.C. is the only local jurisdiction impacted in this manner and one thing is true, if D.C. were San Antonio, there would be a battle at the Alamo over this.”

Tommy Wells, (D-Ward 6), took things a step further, blaming the right side of the aisle, specifically. “It’s an outrage that DC residents may suffer once again because of the dysfunctional behavior of Republicans in Congress,” said Wells in a statement Tuesday. “This sorry incident is one more emphatic example why DC needs Home Rule now. It’s ridiculous that our city is held hostage to the federal budget. … Our residents deserve the services they’ve paid for. District residents shouldn’t suffer just because Congress can’t get their act together.”

The annoying irony in all this is that the phrase that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R)  used when he took to the floor this week and during a 21 hour “talkathon” tried to slow down efforts to come to a budget resolution:  “#MakeDCListen” throws extra salt into the wound. Not only does a potential shutdown affect the city uniquely and unfairly, but the hashtag implies that it’s somehow the fault of the very people that are the most disenfranchised. The reputation of this city is already in relative shambles, but that doesn’t make what’s unfair suddenly reasonable.

“I have determined that everything the DC govt. does – protecting the health, safety & welfare of our residents and visitors – is essential,” Mayor Vincent Gray wrote from his Twitter account this afternoon, referring to the decision he sent to the head of the federal Office of Management and Budget.

In theory, he’s exactly right. In practice, however, this might be the biggest political gamble of his career.

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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Mark Berman · September 25, 2013