Colbert I. King

The bombshell Gray ignored

Colbert I. King
Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's nothing short of amazing that during Mayor Vince Gray's meet-and-greet session with House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday, the subject of one of the most anti-District proposals to surface in Congress in decades never came up.

I'm referring to the proposal by the House Republican Study Committee (which includes more than two-thirds of House GOP members) to eliminate the federal financial payment that helps compensate the city for burdens associated with being the nation's capital.

This bombshell is contained in the Republican Study Group's proposed Spending Reduction Act, which would cut $100 billion in nondefense discretionary spending for the rest of fiscal 2011.

The provision states the act "would eliminate the general fiscal assistance that the District of Columbia receives from the federal government (a special payment unique to Washington). DC currently receives this payment even though the federal government otherwise provides, just as it does for other states who do not receive this special payment, substantial payments in the form of Medicaid, education money, etc. Savings: $210 Million annually."

If approved, that action would bring the financially strapped nation's capital to its knees.

Yet in Boehner's presence this week, Gray never said a word about this threat. The mayor's press secretary, Linda Wharton Boyd, told me in a brief phone interview Friday that the anti-D.C. proposal "was not discussed."

Gray, however, did use the occasion to tell the speaker that he opposed school vouchers, and Boyd issued a news release touting that point. So what?

Boehner's efforts to breathe life into the dying D.C. school voucher program, which he announced on Wednesday, should have come as no surprise.

The program was born during the reign of President George W. Bush and a GOP-dominated Congress. When Democrats took over two years ago, they pulled the plug on vouchers, and last year President Obama administered a life-ending anesthetic by continuing the program for those enrolled until they graduated from high school. But he decided against allowing new students to join the program.

Ah, but elections have consequences. Last November's shellacking returned the House to GOP control and resuscitation to the D.C. voucher program. Boehner is performing exactly as expected.

Not so with his House Republican Study Committee.

Its proposal runs contrary to the policy of every president and Congress since at least the turn of the 20th century. Modern chief executives Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush all recognized the truth that the District's unique status as the seat of the national government carries distinct fiscal disadvantages.

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