WASHINGTON ― When the federal government partially shut down in 1995, the local city government closed recreation centers and suspended trash collection while then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich seethed over having having to sit in the back of Air Force One.
That won’t happen this time, though.
District of Columbia residents run their own civic affairs, but the U.S. Constitution gives Congress ultimate control, so when lawmakers fail to fund the government and “nonessential” federal services go by the wayside, the same thing is supposed to happen to the city, too.
During the shutdown drama of 2013, then-mayor Vince Gray decided D.C. was not doing that anymore. The city defied the federal government by spending its own money, and Gray declared all of the city’s workers “essential to the protection of public safety, health, and property,” thereby exempting them from the federal shutdown.
Through a referendum and a lawsuit, the D.C. government has since tried to give itself more budget autonomy from the federal government, and Republicans in Congress seem to be losing interest in the fight. They made only a half-hearted attempt to thwart the city’s 2015 legalization of recreational marijuana, for instance, and haven’t said much in recent years about its budget.
On Friday, current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city would remain fully open and that the Department of Public Works would also handle litter collection at 126 National Parks Service sites that would otherwise not get service during the shutdown.
“Leadership is about stepping up, not shutting down,” Bowser said in a press release.
D.C. residents still don’t have any voting representation in Congress, even though the city is more populous than the entire state of Wyoming, which gets one representative in the House and two senators.
But the fact that the city has no voting member of Congress means D.C. residents, who are often subject to mockery and erasure by the city’s out-of-town professional class, played no part in failing to fund the federal government.