Congress appears to have learned one lesson from last year’s government shutdown: Don’t drag down the District of Columbia with everything else.
A comprehensive spending bill set to pass later this week inoculates the District government from shutdowns through September 2015. The language was inserted to protect DC residents from situations similar to the shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, when many city services were suspended along with federal operations. Because the District’s budget is ultimately subject to Congress’s appropriations process, a lapse in the federal budget can lead to a local shutdown, too.
Those circumstances were avoided last October when Mayor Vince Gray declared all 32,000 city employees “essential” personnel and tapped an emergency reserve fund to make payroll. The District’s situation received national attention about halfway through the 16-day shutdown when Gray confronted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, on the steps of the Capitol.
The message seems to have taken hold. A draft of an omnibus spending bill in the House this week permits the District to spend its own money through the end of the 2015 fiscal year even if Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill. The bill funds the federal government through the end of the 2014 fiscal year on September 30.
“This guaranteed stability is a victory for the DC economy and our residents, and a significant step forward in our fight for full home rule and budget autonomy,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a press release yesterday.
While the Senate’s version of the spending bill includes specific language about permanent budget autonomy, the House’s draft omits it.