WE HAVE been very clear that the Republicans — specifically those in the House — are responsible for the government shutdown that is now in its second week and hurting many people. But the blame for reducing the citizens of the District of Columbia to collateral damage in this federal standoff lies entirely with the Democrats — Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and President Obama, to be precise. Their opposition to a measure that would allow the District to spend its locally raised tax dollars makes a mockery of their professed support of D.C. home rule and threatens critical operations in the nation’s capital.
“I’m on your side, don’t screw it up, okay? Don’t screw it up,” Mr. Reid had the gall to tell Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) Wednesday after Mr. Gray confronted him with the outrage of the city not being able to spend its own money. “Talk to the Republicans. They’re the ones objecting,” Mr. Reid said.
In truth, Republicans in the House last week led a successful effort for a D.C. funding bill. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she’s reliably been told that Senate Republicans would not oppose the measure if Mr. Reid would bring to it a vote. Mr. Reid — backed by the promise of a veto from the White House — has so far refused. Mr. Obama reinforced that message in a tense exchange with Ms. Norton later on Wednesday.
Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama are on solid ground in not allowing Republicans to pick off by whim different parts of the government to fund. But, as Mr. Gray told Mr. Reid, the District of Columbia is not a U.S. government agency like the National Park Service or a department like Veterans Affairs. And the money at issue is D.C.’s money — not the federal government’s. Democrats seemed to understand this distinction when they sought budget autonomy for the city or to permanently immunize the city government from federal shutdowns.
It’s only been because of what Ms. Norton called “unprecedented innovation” by Mr. Gray that the city has been able to operate; the mayor even picked up a federal responsibility in having city workers pick up the trash that was piling up in federally owned parks within the District. But the reserves are fast being depleted. The situation has forced the city to stop payments to critical Medicaid providers and to suspend tax refunds. Mr. Gray warned that the consequences will only get worse, with public safety and education possibly being affected.
Those who have criticized the mayor for siding with Republicans against fellow Democrats have it wrong. It’s Mr. Gray’s fellow Democrats who have sided against the District and its interests.