Budget Deal Includes Abortion and School Voucher Riders
||Friday, April 8, 2011
With the clock rapidly ticking towards a federal government shutdown, an exasperated Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton let loose Thursday on how she feels lawmakers on Capitol Hill treat Washington, D.C., which she represents.
“District residents are being treated as colonists of the Congress of the United States,” Norton told Washington’s WTTG-TV Thursday. “It’s time that the District of Columbia told the Congress to go straight to hell.”
Norton is frustrated because no American city would be impacted by a government shutdown more than Washington, D.C. – a majority black city that’s home to tens of thousands of federal workers.
They would be among an estimated 800,000 federal employees who may be forced to stay at home as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday if Democratic and Republican congressional leaders fail to reach an agreement on budget cuts and how to fund the government for the remaining six months of Fiscal Year 2011.
Arguing on the House floor, in committee hearings rooms and on television, Norton has complained that the District is being held hostage by House Republicans, who’ve included a provision within a bill the House passed Thursday to fund the government for an additional week that specifically targets D.C.
The provision would prevent the District government from spending its own tax revenue on abortions for low income women. Norton unsuccessfully tried to strip the abortion measure while it was debated in the House Rules Committee.
“This bill, perhaps more than any other, demonstrates the (Republican) majority’s contempt for the American citizens who reside in the District of Columbia,” she said. “District residents were not surprised the bill contains the D.C. abortion rider, since (House Resolution) 1 contained this and other D.C. riders, but they are particularly outraged that this bill lumps them together with Guantanamo Bay detainees. The only other prohibition is the bill would prevent Guantanamo Bay detainees from being brought into the United States.”
District residents have long chaffed over Congress’s hand in the city’s fiscal and political affairs. Though Washington long ago achieved home rule – allowing its residents to elect a mayor and city council – a House subcommittee handles D.C. appropriations.
Norton is a non-voting delegate in the House, the same status afforded to delegates from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. The D.C. government, in protest of not having a voting voice in Congress, added the motto “Taxation Without Representation” to the city’s license plates.
Because the District is considered in a shutdown to be a federal agency, it could lose between $1.5 million to $5.5 million a week if the federal government shutters.
Washington’s basic services – trash collection, libraries, parking enforcement and the Department of Motor Vehicles - would be suspended or closed. The University of the District of Columbia would close, but D.C. public schools would remain open.
“This is a concrete example of what it means to be treated like a second-class citizen,” Washington Mayor Vincent Gray told The Washington Post.
Revue-generating tourist attractions like the Smithsonian museum, the National Zoo and the Washington Monument would be closed. If the government shuts down, the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s annual parade, which draws about 500,000 visitors from around the world, would be canceled this weekend because permits issued by the National Park Service won’t be honored.
“Visitor activities that require a permit, including public events, will not be allowed or will be canceled or postponed,” The Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service, said in a statement. “Visitor centers will be closed and access to park areas denied, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Independence Hall, Alcatraz and the Washington Monument.”
Norton may have lost the battle to ease the District’s burden in the event of a shutdown, but she hasn’t given up. She’s taken steps to deem her entire staff as “essential” government workers, meaning her constituent services office can remain open during a shutdown.
They wouldn’t be among the federal workers who could be ordered to turn off or turn in their BlackBerries and stay home. They would be allowed to show up at the office – albeit at no pay.
“We represent a district that has no senators and only one member of Congress,” Norton said. “With our local government also facing a shutdown, we cannot abandon our constituents, who may need us now more than ever. We hope that federal employees who have been deemed essential will be paid retroactively, although there is certainly no guarantee.”