October 3, 2013

THE DISTRICT of Columbia repeatedly has been schooled to the hard truth that its interests will get sold out on Capitol Hill whenever that serves party politics — either party’s politics. So Congress’s refusal to separate the city’s right to spend its local tax dollars from the federal government shutdown should come as no surprise. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to be stunned by the blatant hypocrisy of Senate and House Democrats who claim to be allies of the District but think so little of betraying its interests.

Consider that on Monday, 117 House Democrats — including leaders Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland — signed a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) urging passage of “legislation that would allow the D.C. government to spend its local funds in the event of a federal shutdown on October 1 and therefore remain open.” When a bill doing exactly thatcame to the floor the very next day, only 34 Democrats supported it.

Credit goes to the three local members (Virginia’s James P. Moran Jr. and Gerald E. Connolly and Maryland’s Donna Edwards) who broke with their party to support the city. Credit also to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the committee with oversight of the District, who spearheaded the effort and, as the Washington City Paper recently observed, is becoming the city’s unlikely best friend on the Hill.

The Democrats’ bogus argument is that a piecemeal approach to restarting the federal government is just GOP strategy and poorly serves the public. At issue is whether the city can spend local money to continue local services. “It’s our money, not yours,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in underscoring that — unlike other bills to fund the national parks and veterans affairs — no federal appropriation is involved. It’s a point Democrats should understand since they have advanced it in the past, in seeking D.C. budget autonomy and permanent protection for the city when federal shutdowns occur.

D.C. officials are using previously appropriated reserve funds to keep local services operating during the federal shutdown, but it’s estimated that those funds will be depleted in about two weeks. The measure allowing the District to spend its local funds through Dec. 15 won approval from the House in a grudging voice vote Wednesday, but so far it seems Mr. Reid is not likely to take it up in the Senate, and the White House has promised a veto.

Democrats are right to be skeptical of Republican efforts to cherry-pick funding for federal functions that are popular with the public. But letting the District spend its own money is not on par with the appeal of restarting the Giant Panda Cam or reopening the Grand Canyon. Support for the liberal District could prove to be a liability for some Republicans. We urge Mr. Reid to bring this matter to a vote and for the White House not to stand in the way of letting the District go about its business.