Keep the drink specials flowing, because after another night, the federal government shutdown shows no signs of ending soon. But it is creating a split between DC’s elected officials and their fellow Democrats in Congress. Yesterday, in one of her more impassioned moments, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton urged her colleagues to pass a bill giving the DC government authority to spend its own funds without congressional oversight through December 15.
The DC funding bill was one of three proposed by House Republicans to fund the “popular” parts of government. There were also measures introduced to restore National Park Service funding—hours after frustrated World War II veterans pushed their way
through barricades around the memorial to that conflict—and to continue paying for veterans’ benefits. All three bills received a majority, but not the two-thirds needed to pass under the House rules used yesterday.
Democrats are resisting bills that carve out certain items, calling them a “sham,” and are instead pushing for a comprehensive funding bill that keeps the Affordable Care Act intact. But when it comes to letting DC pay its own bills, Norton is not standing with her party.
“I understand the resentment on my side to what is being done,” she pleaded yesterday. “But carry out your resentment without putting us in the position of a thing, nothing but another piece of appropriations that you have something to do with.”
Norton’s remarks came a few hours after the DC Council approved a plan by Mayor Vince Gray to dip into the city’s $144 million emergency fund to cover its expenses for now. But that will only tide over the District for a few weeks. Like Norton, Gray is in disagreement with his fellow Democrats about separating DC’s budget from the shutdown fracas.
“The mayor has always said that the District should not be part of this debate,” Gray’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro says. “Congress has no moral right to hold the District hostage here. We’ve had 18 straight balanced budgets.”
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, urged his colleagues to free up DC’s finances. “Mayor Gray deserves to have his funds—overseen, because it is a federal city? Yes. But kidnapped? No,” he said.
The votes on bills to fund veterans’ programs and the National Park Service also fell short, but all three measures are expected to come back up again today and will only need a simple majority to pass. Still, the bills are likely doomed once they reach the Senate, where Democratic leaders are not taking up single-issue funding bills. The White House doesn’t want them either. “These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brudnage said in a statement.
But at least the nixing of bills to reopen the parks won’t create a replays of yesterday’s scene at the World War II Memorial, when scores of veterans on an “honor flight” forced their way past fences erected around the monument. The National Park Service announced this morning that the memorial will be opened for all “First Amendment activities.”
Diane Gresse, the executive director of the group that organizes the flights, writes in an e-mail that three more charted flights of veterans are due to visit the memorial today, with 900 total slated to travel to Washington this week. “I have not been made aware of any cancellations of trips,” she adds.