Defying Congress: D.C. weighs plan to stay open if feds shut down

WASHINGTON – Many Americans are annoyed. Government employees are worried. Others have started the blame game.

The potential federal shutdown, now just days away, has elicited a variety of responses. In the District, leaders are considering a different response: defying Congress and keeping the city government running.

A federal shutdown would hit particularly hard in the District because the city needs federal approval to spend its own money — regardless of its funding source.

As a result, libraries, trash collection and other city services could be halted. That is, unless they’re declared essential.

That was part of a conversation during breakfast between Mayor Vince Gray and council members Tuesday morning. The result of the conversation is a piece of emergency legislation they will put forward next Tuesday declaring all city services essential so they wouldn’t be affected by a federal government shutdown.

“For me it’s a matter of saying finally, ‘It’s our budget. It’s our money. We should be able to do with it what we want’,” says David Grosso, D-At-Large, who pushed for the action.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says there’s “no question” members support avoiding the impact of a shutdown, even if the methodology is confrontational.

“It’s not about us breast-beating saying, ‘We’re important, we’re essential,'” he says. “It’s about saying that the functions of government are essential to the citizens, to the economy, to the employees.”

Additionally, the defiant stance would provide another platform to decry the District’s lack of autonomy.

While support for the effort is clear, the legality of such an action is questionable.

“In the end I think we have to do what we think the law allows, but maybe we press the edges of the envelope,” Mendelson says.

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