Collateral damage

Saturday, February 26, 2011; 6:41 PM

IF THE FEDERAL government shuts down, D.C. residents likely will be unable to visit neighborhood libraries, renew their driver's licenses or have their garbage collected. Never mind that these services are funded with local tax dollars and that the District is a mere bystander to the game of chicken between Republicans and Democrats over government spending. It's infuriating, and it's further evidence of the need for the District to control how its local dollars are spent.

Congress technically appropriates even locally generated revenue to the District. If Congress can't manage to fund the government beyond Friday, or beyond the next deadline two weeks away, the District won't be able to spend its own funds. The last time this occurred was in 1995 and 1996. The Post's Mike DeBonis recounted how the first shutdown, from Nov. 14 to Nov. 19 in 1995, shuttered libraries, blocked repair of traffic signals, and furloughed health providers and building inspectors. The city lost $7.3 million in wages paid to employees who were not required to work and $78.5 million in uncollected or late revenue. The second shutdown didn't affect the city because Congress approved a funding bill for the District.

A similar bill now by D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) would allow the District to spend local funds in the event of a government shutdown. "We are sure there is no congressional intention to close down the District's local government because of congressional disagreement over the federal budget," she said. "In fact, most members are completely unaware that the District would have to close if the federal government closes."

Maybe they are unaware; they don't much seem to care, either. A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) offered up only tired rhetoric about a government shutdown being in the hands of Senate Democrats. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he would get back to us; we're still waiting. Such distinterest, given efforts (mainly by Republicans) to chip away at home rule, isn't surprising.

If Congress can't avert a government shutdown - if, that is, it can't accomplish its most basic job - it should at least get out of the way and let local leaders do theirs.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company