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Norton Statement at Press Conference Calling on the Senate and the Administration to Free D.C.'s Local Budget

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) made the following statement today at a press conference with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, members of the D.C. Council, and District leaders to call on the Senate and the administration to free D.C.'s local budget during the federal government shutdown.

Remarks of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Press Conference to Call on the Senate and the Administration to Free D.C.'s Budget During Federal Government Shutdown
October 9, 2013, The Senate Swamp Site

I thank the chair of the Committee of jurisdiction, Darrell Issa, the Mayor of the city, Vincent Gray, and members of the D.C. Council for joining me here on the Senate side of the Capitol, where the District's local budget is being held. I thank Chairman Issa, as well, for his consistent assistance for D.C., not only through the current crisis, but throughout his chairmanship, working with me on many difficult issues, from getting the Southwest Waterfront Redevelopment bill through two committees to his skillful work in getting out of committee his bill that also would bring the city close to budget autonomy. I thank Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council for the unprecedented innovation to keep the nation's capital operating. The country and the federal government owe you its gratitude for not allowing its capital city to be paralyzed by the current national farce that has shut down much of the national government. Its victims are scattered across the 50 states and territories, safely out of view from the perpetrators of the crisis. The Congress and the administration, however, cannot escape the crisis that is quickly enveloping their capital city and becoming our worst nightmare. No matter that the city has done everything right and by the book -- writing a solidly balanced budget, declining to spend surplus funds, but instead building $1.5 billion in reserve funds, even during a fragile recovery, money, which like the more than $6 billion it raises in annual funds, it cannot touch during this crisis. Congressional Democrats and the administration, however, who had been our best friends, acted deliberately to ensure that the District of Columbia government, an innocent bystander, was brought into the present folly and held captive.

I thank House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for meeting with me, hearing me out when I asked him to get the city's local budget out of the House any way he could, and for doing exactly that. I particularly thank Chairman Issa, who spoke convincingly in favor of our bill on the floor and even lobbied our colleagues on both sides of the chamber for its passage. The bill passed in the House last Wednesday, but my remarks on the floor, conversations with highly placed administration officials and even with my good friend Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have fallen on deaf ears. They have been driven by their well-founded fears that the Republicans, who have not taken their Affordable Care Act demands off the table, are selectively pursuing federal spending bills, only to stop at health and similar appropriations, and then reassert their Obamacare demands. Yet Democrats at this critical moment have abandoned their own long-held principled position that D.C.'s local budget must be distinguished from federal spending bills and should not be in the Congress at all. The Senate's current hold on the city's budget is absurd in light of its own pending 2014 D.C. appropriations bill that contains language permanently immunizing the District government from shutting down when the federal government shuts down. In exactly the same way, the administration's rigid veto threat mindlessly captures the District's local budget, which contains not one penny of federal funds, although the president's own 2013 budget contains the permanent D.C. anti-shutdown language. Yet I am reliably informed that Senate Republican leaders would not object to moving the D.C. bill though the Senate.

Now, the situation grows desperate. The city's previously appropriated contingency reserve fund, envisioned for unforeseen events like natural disasters, dwindles as it copes with a crisis that is as unnatural as it is artificial and unnecessary. The District of Columbia, showing economic strength and growth the federal government can only envy, is treated like hapless collateral damage.

The city cannot stand by or stand back and be driven to its knees. The Mayor and Council are not mere supplicants asking for their own locally raised funds. The District of Columbia has been through too much and has come too far. In our federal democracy, it has always been unacceptable for any city's local budget to bow before a federal body and be signed by the federal executive. It is shameful to now hold the city's local funds to make a federal point. The Congress and the President correctly saw they should not treat a vital function like military like other federal spending bills. Surely the same goes for the city's local funds, which keep the nation's capital operating for its residents, federal agencies and visitors from throughout the country and world.

We serve notice today that the District is running out of funds to keep a big city running. The Mayor's request to meet with Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the President is the least that he and the city are entitled to. I ask the administration to remove its veto threat on the House-passed bill approving D.C.'s local budget and Senate Majority Leader Reid to bring the bill to the floor this week, before the city's fast-declining contingency funds disappear. Please look at the city, not through us. Talk to us, not past us.


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