The House of Representatives voted yesterday to freeze spending in the D.C. government until January, forcing months of delays in new initiatives such as raises for city firefighters and teachers.
Yesterday's vote frustrated city officials, who passed their $5.8 billion budget in May, then, at the urging of congressional leaders, hurried to cut it this fall when revenue sagged. D.C. officials said the episode highlights the troubles caused by the District's unique governmental structure in which Congress must approve all spending, even that paid for by local tax dollars.
The city's spending plan got caught up in a larger struggle in Congress over the federal budget when the Republican-controlled House approved a continuing resolution that held the line on all new spending until Jan. 11. That is several days after the new Congress is seated, with several new Republican members of the House and a Senate newly under GOP control.
As recently as Tuesday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) sought assistance from President Bush in freeing the city's budget from the congressional struggle. But despite publicly praising the mayor in a speech about homeland security, the president privately made no commitment to help on the budget, Williams said afterward.
"It's a form of insult to injury," Tony Bullock, spokesman for Williams, said yesterday. "Congress has failed to perform its most basic function."
Raises for several city unions that were supposed to take effect at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 were put on hold because of Congress's action, but other operations were not heavily affected since the city had trimmed most of its spending to last year's levels because of the stagnant economy.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sought to have the city budget passed separately yesterday, but Congress refused.
"You can run Health and Human Services or the Department of Labor on a day-to-day [continuing resolution], but you shouldn't try to pick up garbage that way," Norton said in a statement released by her office. "A [continuing resolution] cripples the very management reforms and planning Congress has insisted that the District must do."
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.