No Shutdown, but the District gets used

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Dottie Mae’

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.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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4 thoughts on “No Shutdown, but the District gets used

  1. Based on survey results I’m told that over 70% of the DC residents, mostly democrats, are in favor of school vouchers. The main reason Obama canceled the program against the desires of the DC residents was because of the teachers union lobby which is strongly against the program. Unions are the largest financial supporters of the Democratic party.

    In this case the Republicans enacted legislation which most Democrats in the district support but which the Democratic political leadership does not support because they are bought and paid for by the unions.

  2. Jim,

    I recognize that vouchers can be good things, but if, as you say, 70% of the city supports the measure, then there’s at least one Democrat on the Council who’s willing to back the measure, right?

    I bristle not at vouchers, but the process by which they were brought to the city.

  3. Although I don’t know, I would guess that there would be very few if any on the council who would back vouchers. The council is made up of democratic politicians. There are very few democratic politicians who will stand up to the teachers union. We had 2 and their names were Fenty and Rhee. Look what happened to them. (I could be wrong on this point since there are other strong politicians out there and I don’t know the council well enough).

    On this particular issue, the politicians are not backing what the majority of the voters want. There are many complex issues here but the bottom line is that the money and power of the teachers union has corrupted the system. I do believe that if you research the issue and separate the fact from fiction you will find that the politicians are often acting in the best interests of the union which unfortunately often is not in the best interest of our kids or the community.

  4. Tom, Sorry for posting again. I forgot to say that I recognize that your larger point was how vouchers were brought to the city and I agree with you on that point.

    I think in both cases, elimination of vouchers by Obama and reinstatement by the republicans, both sides are acting not for or against the kids but rather for and against the unions. Unfortunately, my experience is that the corrupting power of the union is even greater at the local level and therefore with this particular issue I don’t think that having the issue in the hands of the council would be any better. Nonetheless, I do agree that in general with many issues it is better to push governing to as local a level as possible which I think is your larger point.