The federal shutdown has put the District of Columbia in the familiar position of political prop. This time, however, city leaders won’t sit for it.
“It’s a new attitude in D.C.,” councilmember David Grosso told National Journal at an event hosted by the voting-rights advocacy group DC Vote earlier this week. “We’re no longer going to ask for permission. We’re going to stand up for our rights and spend our local money.”
The problem is that even while the city runs its own municipal government, it’s the only jurisdiction in the United States whose budget and revenues are controlled by Congress. For the past two weeks, the city has gotten by by tapping an emergency reserve, but those funds will run dry as early as Tuesday of next week, leaving city services such as schools, police, and trash collection in the lurch.
Republicans have used D.C.’s appropriations as a political wedge issue, voting to allow the city to spend its own funds after Democrats opposed any piecemeal bills to restore funding to the government. The mayor has sought to negotiate with congressional leaders, and even took a more aggressive approach Wednesday, confronting Senate Majority Harry Reid on the steps of the Capitol.
But Grosso says D.C. should not be asking for permission to spend its own money anymore, a move that would violate the federal Antideficiency Act. He put D.C.’s fight for autonomy in a historical context. “The biggest most violent debates we’ve had in this country are separation of state and federal powers,” he said. “That’s been debated even prior to the birth of this country.”
Mayor Vincent Gray dismissed Grosso’s approach in an address Thursday night, arguing that violating the Antideficiency Act undermines D.C.’s moral authority in negotiations with Congress. He also said such a move could make District underlings vulnerable. “Anyone who has a role in obligating the District to pay funds or disbursing those funds—people who let contracts, or accountants, or payroll officers—could potentially be at risk of conviction for a federal felony that carries a maximum of two years in federal prison and a $5,000 fine,” the mayor said Thursday. Gray added that while he has “no problem taking these legal risks myself,” he’s not comfortable putting his employees in legal jeopardy.
Grosso isn’t buying it. “When you stand up for yourself and you stand up for what’s right no matter what, you have greater moral authority,” he said in a follow-up interview Friday. “I don’t think it’s a very hard choice there,” Grosso said. “I’m willing to break that law.”
So far his position has won the support of half a dozen or so D.C. councilmembers, including David Catania, Anita Bonds, Kenyan McDuffie, Mary Cheh, and Tommy Wells.
“Who would they send to arrest us?” Grosso continued. “The Capitol Hill police? Who would arrest the people of the District of Columbia for spending their own money? I can’t figure it out.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled a councilmember’s name.
What We're Following See More »
"President Trump is expected to announce that Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci will be White House communications director, according to two sources familiar with the planning. Trump has left the role open since Mike Dubke resigned in May, and the President has vented frequently to his friends about the performance of his press operation." According to NBC News, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus are resisting the move.
"President Donald Trump's second-quarter job approval rating has fallen below what any other past president has gotten during the same time frame. A new Gallup poll found that Trump averaged a 38.8% rating between April 20 and July 19. The average approval rating for that time is 62%. President Obama was at the average during this time period, as was President Nixon. President Clinton is the only president who was below 50% by the second quarter, coming in with a 44% approval rating." There is also a large partisan gap. "Just 8% of Democrats approved of Trump's job performance during the second quarter, but 85% of Republicans did. Approval ratings have become increasingly polarized in recent administrations, but the 77-point gap for Trump is a new record."
"The US government will soon prohibit American citizens from traveling to North Korea, according to two tour groups that cater to Western tourists who want to visit the secretive country. The US will announce the ban within a couple of days, said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours. The agency was informed of the development by officials of the Swedish government, which represents America's interests in North Korea, he told CNN."
"Federal arts and humanities programs targeted for elimination by the Trump administration would get a lifeline from House appropriators willing to ignore the president’s proposal and keep them running. The $31.5 billion fiscal 2018 Interior-Environment spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday includes $145 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. While that’s still a 3.2 percent cut from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, it is more than $116 million above Trump’s budget request. The National Endowment for the Humanities would receive $145 million in fiscal 2018, which is $103.7 million above the White House budget request."
"The White House’s Office of Management and Budget detailed Thursday how it would jettison hundreds of existing or planned regulations as part of its larger push to ease federal restrictions on the private sector, upending federal policies on labor, the environment and public health. ... The Trump administration said it was pulling or suspending 860 pending regulations."