WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP)— A bill that would have allowed D.C. to stop spending money from its contingency fund for city operations and return to normal in the midst of the government shut down has failed in the House of Representatives.
WNEW’s George Mesthos says the bill failed because it had to achieve a two-thirds majority vote. Republicans were unanimous in voting “yea,” but just 34 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – DC) tells Mesthos that she does not blame the Democrats for their strategy, which is to fund the government all at once instead of through piecemeal measures.
Bills covering the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Park Service also failed, as was expected. Senate Democrats dismissed the idea of piecemeal measures earlier in the day, saying Republicans shouldn’t be permitted to choose which agencies should open and which remain shut.
D.C. lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that authorizes the city government to tap a contingency fund to pay the roughly 32,000 city workers during the shutdown.
The measure, along with a related decision by Mayor Vincent Gray to declare all local government operations essential, means that all municipal services — from trash collection to libraries — will continue uninterrupted in a city otherwise grappling with the impact of the federal government grinding to a halt.
“Everything is open for business today,” a smiling Gray told reporters after the council vote.
Gray made a rare appearance in the D.C. Council chamber as councilmembers praised his stance in keeping local government open in spite of gridlock in Congress, which wields ultimate authority over the city’s funding and laws.
“So frequently it’s easy for visitors to come to our city, and say, ‘Well, we’re visiting the monuments’ and forget about the people that live here and the plight of the people that live here,” Councilmember Anita Bonds said, adding that, “Wherever I go, people say, ‘We’re necessary, we’re necessary.’ And what it does is bring the dignity we want for the District for Columbia.”
The Council legislation permits the government to pay workers from a contingency cash reserve fund holding roughly $144 million, and the mayor has requested adding to that fund $85.9 million of certified additional revenue. Officials expect the fund to cover a couple weeks of operations and say the figure would grow if an additional $110 million from an emergency cash reserve fund is also used.
“I think it’s important that we did that because the government needs to keep functioning. Just because the House can’t agree with the Senate is not a reason for citizens’ trash to not be picked up,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in an interview after the vote.
Even with local government operational, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were sent home, barricades went up around some of Washington’s most significant landmarks — including the Lincoln Memorial — and federal agencies that employ a large percentage of the regional workforce were essentially shuttered. Metrorail ridership rose slightly during the mid-day hours, perhaps because of the early dismissal of federal workers.
“We are aware of federal workers heading home from their offices during the mid-day hours, so certainly some if not most of the additional trips taken during those hours were federal workers heading home early,” said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.
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