Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today called on House and Senate leadership to include in the six-month fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution (CR), expected for a House vote later this week, a provision to ensure that the District of Columbia government does not face a shutdown threat later in the fiscal year that begins October 1. The Obama administration has recommended that the appropriators include a provision in the CR, based on a Norton bill, authorizing D.C. to spend its local funds for all of fiscal year 2013, and not just for the term of the CR. "For the first time ever, all four committees with jurisdiction over D.C. are on record acknowledging the common-sense idea that the D.C. government should not face the prospect of a shutdown over a federal spending fight, as it did several times in fiscal years 2011 and 2012," Norton said. "There is no reason for the city to face a shutdown threat if there were a federal government shutdown after the six-month CR expires. The District completed and submitted its balanced fiscal year 2013 budget in a timely manner. The budget has been approved by both appropriations committees and is in the Congress today only because Congress did not complete its appropriations bills. The appropriators understand fully the waste involved for the District government to spend local money and time preparing shutdown contingency plans, and to face the prospect of defaulting on contracts and cutting off basic municipal services to D.C. residents and the federal government. The city should be able to operate in fiscal year 2013 as every other local and state government will do, regardless of congressional disputes about federal spending."
This year, the President's budget included a provision permanently authorizing D.C. to spend its local funds and remain open if the federal government shuts down. The Senate Appropriations Committee-passed fiscal year 2013 D.C. Appropriations bill included the permanent shutdown-avoidance provision. While the House Appropriations Committee-passed fiscal year 2013 D.C. Appropriations bill did not include the provision, the Republican-led committee's report accompanying the bill acknowledged that the District government would face considerable hardships if it had to shut down due to a federal government shutdown and encouraged the passage of legislation to avoid such shutdowns. When the House Appropriations Committee failed to include the D.C. shutdown-avoidance provision in its bill, the Obama administration's Statement of Administration Policy on the bill "urged" the House to include the provision in its final bill, saying "[a]s is true for States, vital District operations that rely solely on non-Federal funds should not be disrupted by inaction of the Federal Government."
Not only is there bipartisan support for avoiding D.C. government shutdowns, there is also increasing bipartisan support for D.C. budget autonomy, which would allow D.C. both to avoid shutdowns and to set its own fiscal year. Last year, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which has jurisdiction over D.C.), announced his support for D.C. budget autonomy. Since then, President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget called on Congress to pass a budget autonomy bill; a bill which mirrors Norton's budget autonomy bill has been introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (which has jurisdiction over the District), and Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI); and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) have indicated their support for budget autonomy. Norton said that merely allowing the city government to remain in operation during an unrelated federal spending dispute falls far short of budget autonomy and is the least Congress should do while it requires the District to submit its budget for Congressional approval every year.
In an important change, several years ago Norton negotiated an agreement with the Appropriations committees, which has since been followed by both Republican and Democratic Congresses, allowing D.C., unlike federal agencies, to spend under a CR at the next year's level as set forth in the city-passed local budget. This change rescued the city from the severe operational difficulty of being unable to spend its locally raised funds as mandated by its balanced budget. However, without passage of the regular appropriations bills or a new CR before March 31, D.C. would face a shutdown.