DC Leaders Surprised by Cooperative Tone on the Hill

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    NEWSLETTERS

    D.C. may be closer to financial independence from the federal government. City leaders were treated better than expected in a House hearing Thursday. (Published Thursday, May 12, 2011)

    When D.C. Mayor Vincent walked into a Capitol Hill hearing room Thursday, a lot of reporters were primed for a clash with Republicans who run the House of Representatives.

    There’s been grumbling on Capitol Hill about the hiring scandal that has dogged Gray’s early months in office.  Council Chairman Kwame Brown, sitting next to Gray, has been the focus of campaign finance questions and expensive SUVs. The GOP has blocked the city’s spending on abortions and tried to end the anti-drug needle distribution program.

    D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton went into the hearing ready for a fight.

    It didn’t happen.

    In the manner of a man-bites-dog surprise, the city was politely received.  The GOP members asked about school vouchers, public safety and Medicaid spending.

    And then Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) surprised everyone.

    The chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform appeared sympathetic to the city on a key issue – the local impact of a federal government budget shutdown.

    Issa said he would craft legislation that would exempt the District from the need to shut down if Congress and the president can’t reach agreement on the federal budget. Just weeks ago, the city spent tens of thousands of dollar in time and resources preparing for a shutdown that was narrowly averted.

    Issa said he agreed with city officials that the local government should not be handcuffed by the federal policy fight as long as the District has enough local tax money to continue operating.

    Gray noted that of the city’s $9 billion budget, almost $6 billion is locally raised by taxpayers. Gray said some city services may be affected, but he said he believe the city could continue to pick up the trash, keep libraries open and perform other routine operations. (Police and Fire are exempt from any shutdown.)

    Gray was backed up by both Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi and Brookings Institution expert Alice Rivlin, a former chair of the federal control board that ruled the city in the last 1990s.

    Rivlin and Gandhi said the District government, despite being unable to tax federal and nonprofit land or nonresident income, is financially sound and should be given more budget autonomy all the time, not just during a federal shutdown.

     “It wasn’t negative at all,” Gray said confidently about the hearing. “We can manage ourselves at the local level.”