Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today made the following statement on District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray's decision to declare all operations of the District government essential, which would keep the entire District government open in the event of a federal government shutdown on October 1.
"As I have repeatedly told my colleagues throughout my service in Congress, no member of Congress, myself included, should ever tell the District of Columbia what to do or how to spend its locally raised funds," said Norton. "Under the Home Rule Act, the mayor is the chief executive officer of the District, and I will not second guess his determination that all D.C. government operations are essential and will therefore continue if the federal government shuts down on October 1. The city is well aware of the legal and political risks of its actions. The fact that the city has felt driven to circumvent the congressional process highlights the need for D.C. to be freed from being embroiled in federal matters and be granted autonomy over its own budget, as is the case of every state, other locality and territory in the country. The District government is not a federal agency and should not be treated as such for any purpose, especially federal appropriations. While the Antideficiency Act applies to federal and District employees, the law, and Office of Management and Budget and Department of Justice interpretations of it, gives agency heads -- in this case, the mayor -- broad discretion in determining which federal operations are essential during a shutdown and may therefore continue. Nevertheless, I will continue to urge House and Senate leaders to pass legislation authorizing the District government to spend its local funds in the event of a federal shutdown, as a Republican-led Congress did for portions of the 1995-1996 federal government shutdowns."
Norton said that it is time for the Congress to do much more than pass the bills and amendments she introduced that would allow D.C. to remain open in the event of a federal shutdown, and grant budget autonomy. The city has submitted a timely, balanced $8 billion local budget to Congress, and the Appropriations committees have approved it. Yet, like all other appropriations, the D.C. budget is awaiting congressional approval as if it were a federal agency instead of an independent city of more than 600,000 residents. Ironically, there is bicameral, bipartisan and presidential support for preventing D.C. government shutdowns. In July, both the Republican-led Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Democratic-led Senate Appropriations Committee approved larger bills that contained a provision that would permanently authorize the D.C. government to spend its local funds during a federal government shutdown. The President's fiscal year 2013 budget also contained a permanent shutdown-avoidance provision. The report accompanying the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee-passed fiscal year 2013 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill also acknowledged the harm of District government shutdowns and called on the authorizers to consider legislation to prevent future shutdowns. There is also bipartisan support for budget autonomy in Congress, and the budget autonomy referendum D.C. voters approved overwhelmingly in April remains undisturbed.