I watched on Twitter as word of the deal first began to come in. Several of us, on a short vacation in Chicago, had tracked the negotiations on the Internet as the day wore on, hoping that a deal could be done to keep 800,000 federal workers, and the entirety of the government of DC, in their jobs and postpone a government shutdown that would have radically affected day to day life in the District of Columbia.
The deal, from the perspective of many in the 50 states, appears to be one that many can stomach, wherein policy riders that are socially divisive were set aside in favor of $39B+ in cuts in federal spending. The deal also contains riders that strip the District of Columbia of the right to determine their own local policies based on the desires of her residents. Two riders attached to the bill have direct affect on local policies, but were not approved by any body of residents and voters, and were enacted over the significant objections of the elected delegate to the House.
The first of these riders would allow for federal money to be spent on private school vouchers for children in DC that apply for them and can demonstrate need. The vouchers are a return to an earlier program that had been stripped by President Obama upon his inauguration in 2009, and was a favorite of Republicans. School vouchers remain fairly controversial
The second of these riders bans the use of locally collected tax dollars to pay for abortions for poor women in the District of Columbia. With two riders associated with the deeply controversial and divisive issue of abortion, it’s no surprise that when the Democrats had to pick one to save, they chose the issue that would help the larger number of people.
It’s not currently clear if a rider has been attached to the six-month continuing resolution that would stop the District’s nascent medical marijuana program, or funding for a needle exchange program, but those were both mentioned as potential bones to throw to the conservatives in order to broker a deal.
Looking at the deal, and the situation, I can certainly understand the willingness of the Democratic leadership to use DC as a chit to be bargained with. DC has a massive base of voters who are unlikely to switch parties, and even less likely to do anything in defense of their situation. This is made worse by the District’s status as a federal colony, as none of the people who stick up for the District in the federal body have any sort of legal say over the process that occurs.
There are a lot of people angry today over the issue, and that’s certainly no surprise. There were not, however, a lot of options that made the District’s funds and funding choices sacrosanct to the President or the Democratic leadership, and out of an abundance of caution with regard to the shutdown, they decided to sacrifice the will of the people of the District of Columbia for an agreement.
It is long past time that the District had a bigger role in self-determination, and that our local tax dollars not be subject to the whims of representatives from far afield. The path, however, to such independence is far from clear, certainly fraught with peril, and there is no clear agreement as to what that role would look like. Perhaps the events of the shutdown and the deal that was cut will cause those in leadership roles in this city to look toward a new movement for District representation rights.
This morning Mayor Gray said, “DC’s right to govern itself has once again been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.” He couldn’t be more right.