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Budget Autonomy for District of Columbia Amidst Threat of Government Shutdown

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. NORTON. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Last week, the Nation's Capital--the District of Columbia--was in great grief and pain as we lost 12 employees at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday. I want to thank Members who have expressed their condolences when they've seen me here.

Tuesday, I was on this floor for a moment of silence with four Members of Congress who had served in the Navy even though this is actually a naval installation which houses, largely, Federal civilian employees of the Naval Sea Systems Command. Sunday, I was at a memorial service for the 12 with the President and other Members of Congress and a large group of friends and families of the 12. Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Arthur Lee Daniels, a most sobering and sad funeral of a man who supported his wife and children and who was much beloved by them. He was the breadwinner, and now he is gone.

All during that week, however Mr. Speaker, there was another cloud hanging over this city that I could not forget, that, strange as it may seem, the shutdown threat facing the Federal Government was also facing the District of Columbia. We are talking about a local budget and a budget that, by rights, should not be in the Congress at all. September 30 is the end of the fiscal year. That is Monday--4 days away. The prospect of a government shutdown increases as each day passes. All that we hear here are permutations on the conditions that have now been put on the congressional resolution for keeping the government open, so I cannot assume that there will not be a shutdown, at least, for a short period of time. Considering the shutdown of 1995, anyone who reads history or who was here then, I think, would not want that to happen again.

The cost of a shutdown to the Nation's Capital according to the figures from 2011--the cost of a shutdown threat, because the government has not shut down in recent years, but there were three possible shutdowns in 2011. The cost of a shutdown was $131,000 to the District of Columbia and 3,000 staff hours. That's money and time that should be spent on running a big city.

I am sure Members must be saying, Well, what is it that the District of Columbia did to make the Congress want its budget to come to the Congress? Because that's anathema to most Members of Congress. I think most Members of Congress would almost rather repeat the Revolution of our forefathers rather than see one's local budget here before Members who know nothing of it and have nothing to do with it and don't have a dime in it. This is a matter of history and anachronism that nobody should be proud of.

We are talking about a local budget of $8 billion in local money, and there is not anything about the D.C. budget that has summoned it to the Congress. It comes because it has always come. It's on automatic pilot, despite a budget autonomy referendum that has been overwhelmingly passed in the city, despite my budget autonomy bill, despite my statehood bill; but we are only talking about the local budget now, about local budget autonomy.

So, my friends, I can say there is nothing about the D.C. budget that causes it to be here. On the contrary, the District of Columbia has a $1.5 billion reserve. It puts money in its reserves every year--in good times and bad times. That is one of the largest reserves in the United States today. Most jurisdictions would be proud to have any reserve at all these days. So far from there being something about the D.C. budget, there ought to be a resolution on this floor that commends the District of Columbia for how it has handled its local budget. Its budget was submitted here, on time. The budget was in such good shape that it was easily approved by both appropriations committees. There it sits in the House and Senate, along with Federal appropriations--although the District budget alone among them is not a Federal appropriation. It is a local budget.

So in this matter that ties the city up in the Congress, there is no budget issue. Indeed, the appropriators have never interfered or tried to change the local budget. There is no way they could do so. A local budget is put together with great delicacy after local subcommittee hearings and other hearings and negotiations between the council and the Mayor, with trimmings here and additions there. No one would dare touch it. In my more than 20 years in Congress--and most of my time has been spent in the minority--no one on either side of the aisle has attempted to get into the innards of the District budget.

I have every confidence in the District budget because the District of Columbia has something that no other jurisdiction in the United States has. It has an independent chief financial officer who serves on a 5-year term and who cannot be fired by the Mayor or city council except for cause, and you know what ``cause'' means. He is independent. You can't spend money unless he passes off on it. The money isn't available unless he says so. Of course, there is the same kind of discretion that your own local jurisdictions have to spend money, but it's not nearly the kind of discretion you're used to. Indeed, no political figure--no other mayor or council or local legislature--has a chief financial officer who gets the final say on budgetary matters.

You see, there is nothing that any Member could raise about the budget. If anything, the District budget is subject to a kind of scrutiny that no Member's local budget is. There are Members in this body whose local or state budgets are balanced only by straws and fluff. Ours is a balanced budget that has had the sanction not only of a Mayor and a city council, but of a chief financial officer.

So, you say, there must be some good motive here. After all, who would want to bring a big, complicated city to its knees for nothing. The answer, my friends, is: no one. There is no one in this body or in the other body who has called for or made a statement that

would lead you to believe that she is for the present predicament of the District of Columbia's, allowing the city to close down if the Federal Government shuts down.

Nor is this one of the usual ideological or philosophical differences between the two sides where Democrats and Republicans have deep differences on matters like their budgets or health care or the rest--not this one. No one complains about the budget and how it is put together. No ideological or philosophical differences have been raised; and if there were some, I think there would have been no hesitation in raising them.

So there is nothing in D.C.'s local budget for any Member of this House. There is nothing in a threat of a shutdown for any Member of the House. There is nothing in a shutdown, itself, and here I am referring to a local government shutdown. Part of the reason it goes on is that most Members don't pay attention to any local jurisdiction, even one right in their faces--the Nation's Capital's budget. That's not what they've been sent here to do. Most don't even know about it. I'm sure they don't care about it.

So this historic anomaly, doing great damage to the city, continues. Worse, this matter with our local budget here now, facing the great Nation's Capital with a shutdown, violates every principle of federalism. My colleagues on the other side stand on federalism, it would appear, above all other matters; and I should think they would be the first to want the local budget out of the hands of the ``big foot'' Federal Government. On my side of the aisle, there are deep feelings about local control as well.

Put yourself in my position. How would any Member of this House feel or react if its local money had to pass any eyes in this Chamber who had nothing to do with raising that local money? I don't have the words to say what you would say in that circumstance. If this government were founded on any principle, it was founded on the principle of federalism, and if there is any meaning to federalism, it begins with money: no taxation without representation.

You, Members of the House and Senate, elected by your constituents, don't get to say what my constituents do with their own money. That's a basic principle of American federalism.

The gentlelady from Texas.


Ms. NORTON. I thank the gentlelady from Texas, who, in her generosity, has come down to speak from the point of view of another Member who isn't facing this in her own jurisdiction but understands what we are facing from the Federal Government and how it must indeed be. I thank you very much for your generosity and for those very insightful statements about our predicament.

Indeed, before I recognized the gentlelady, I was speaking about federalism. Essentially, our forefathers and foremothers distrusted Federal power. Nothing is more alien to Federal power than a local budget. I can't imagine that they would have abided that under any circumstances for the District of Columbia or any other city. This country is, in many ways, State and local-oriented, not Federal oriented. We need the Federal Government, we can't do without it; but as to our principles, we set up a Republic that separated local and State matters from Federal matters, and of those matters none is more salient than matters affecting the purse.

The District does not regard itself as a hostage. We are not a hostage to this fight. If that were the case, we would try to negotiate our way out of it or give up. But we're not a part of this fight. When you're a hostage, somebody would say something about you or they would want something and they're using you to get it, but they're not. No one has claimed the District of Columbia as some link to the disputes that are going on here between the administration and Congress.

We face a no-exit, no-way-out proposition because there's nothing we could, ourselves, do. There's nothing for us to give. There's no concession for us to make that would free us. We've got to depend upon the goodwill of the Speaker of the House of the majority, leader of the House of the majority, majority leader of the Senate and the minority leader of the Senate, their leadership, this leadership, and, of course, of our own minority leadership and the Members of the House and the Senate.

I cannot believe they do not identify with me as I stand here trying to get recognition for my city to spend its own money. I believe if they put themselves in my place, there would be enough generosity in this body to agree that wherever we stand on the dispute before us, the District of Columbia is not a part of it and should not be dragged into it.

This is a big, complicated city. It's run well. Its budget and reserves show that. The Federal Government, unlike the Nation's Capital, does not deliver direct services. That's what big cities and small towns do. A Federal shutdown will have its effects throughout the country because we've got almost 3 million Federal workers, and they will feel it first and foremost; and some of the services that the American people regard as essential, but which are not considered essential by the Office of Personnel Management, some of those services will not be available. But those are not like the services that many of you who live in the District of Columbia, Members of Congress, depend upon from the District of Columbia, like picking up your trash and garbage, for example. Even that would be stopped.

Who would be affected, therefore? Well, clearly the 600,000 plus--actually, it's close to 625,000 residents now because the District has been gaining population at a rate of about 1,000 a month. That speaks to how well the city is doing. That's how attractive the city is to people moving to this area. It clearly serves, first and foremost, its own citizens; but the District of Columbia is the Nation's Capital and serves private businesses. It serves Federal officials, visitors, Federal buildings, and foreign embassies. The circle is very broad of those who will feel any shutdown of the District of Columbia.

Moreover, our finances, which have been doing so well, could be very negatively affected. The city has

financing agreements of various kinds, such as a master equipment lease, for example. Like every city, it leases a wide variety of equipment, like some traffic lights and automobiles and public safety vehicles, and it has certificates of participation on some of its buildings, like its command center for public safety. All of those could face a default if a payment is due while a shutdown occurs. Of course, if that occurs, if they miss a payment, then, of course, under the terms of these agreements, the bondholders must be notified, and that would drive up the city's costs.

Is there a Member that even knows this? Surely there are Members who would care that this unintended effect would lead to such serious results.

Wall Street already penalizes the District because its budget has to come here at all. When your budget is not final when it is passed by your local officials, it has to come to a body like the Congress of the United States, even at its most stable, the fact of dual sanctions to approve a budget costs the city on Wall Street, not withstanding its handsome reserves.

I'm not asking the Congress to do the unprecedented. Eighteen years ago when the government shut down--and it was shut down for a week--I went to Speaker Gingrich and asked him not to allow the District to shut down again. There were partial shutdowns, but each time a CR came. He included the District in the CR, and I'm asking for that relief, as well, from the House. It was a House and Senate in Republican hands and an administration in Democratic hands--it was also a polarized time--yet the District of Columbia was kept open.

There are remedies. We are included in the pending congressional resolution because, thanks to the appropriators for the last 10 years, if there is a congressional resolution or, for that matter, a bill, the District of Columbia can spend its local funds at next year's levels. That's not a big favor to the District of Columbia because, remember, we are not a Federal agency, which can only spend at the present year levels. But it was an important thing to do because it had calamitous effects, when the District could not move ahead with its own appropriations as planned and with contracts and with schools and with the many different operations that were affected, when you couldn't spend at the next year's level which you had approved and had been approved by your chief financial officer.

So I've had three bills. One was to amend the CR so that if it turns out to last until December 15 or if it turns out to be a week from now, whatever it is, the District would not have to lurch from CR to CR in short-term CRs. We've asked that the District be permitted to spend its funds for the 2014 fiscal year.

Then I also have an independent bill that would allow the same remedy--not part of the CR--that the leadership could bring to the floor simply to allow the District to spend for the 2014 fiscal year, same terms, nothing changed, exactly what is now in the appropriation that is pending, except that it could now go forward for the next fiscal year.

Then I have a permanent no-shutdown bill.

What makes all of this so ironic is that pending, as I speak, is bicameral, bipartisan support for preventing government shutdowns.

This summer, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved larger bills that contained provisions that would permanently authorize the District government to remain open and spend its local funds. The President's fiscal year 2013 budget contains the same authorization, and the appropriators in the House have acknowledged the harm done to the District by these shutdowns and asked the authorizers to proceed.

As we move closer to the government shutdown, the need to free the District's budget from the grasp of a dispute that shows no sign of ending has become more clear. These continuing resolutions, and the preparations for shutdown are having a punitive effect on the Nation's Capital.

The Nation's Capital is an innocent party to this Federal dispute. Only legislation like the three bills I have just named or my budget or autonomy legislation would keep the Nation's Capital from being embroiled in Federal fights. I ask Members to consider what I have said here this evening and to free the city from disputes I don't think you mean us to be a part of.

I thank the Speaker and yield back the balance of my time.


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