With the federal government 13 hours from shutting down and D.C. leaders pledging to keep the city running as normal, the question hanging in the air has been how, exactly, the feds will respond to this small act of defiance. The semi-autonomous District generally can’t spend money without a congressional appropriation, so theoretically all nonessential government services (say, trash collection) would be suspended until House Republicans stop insisting on delaying the implementation of Obamacare as a condition of keeping the government open.
On Friday evening, one such House Republican, the staunch Obamacare critic Darrell Issa, weighed in on how the federal government would respond to a D.C. minirebellion. “The reality of how so-called shutdowns work are that, retroactively, we pay every federal employee, including the ones that stay home, he told Roll Call. “So from a practical standpoint in these short-term shutdowns, there is no money being saved by sending people home. I rather doubt that Congress would take punitive actions against the District of Columbia for keeping their personnel on.”
The person expected to take the lead on any congressional investigation and punishment of the District is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who is, conveniently, Darrell Issa. In light of Issa’s very conservative record, his support for the District might seem surprising. But in light of his past actions on D.C. issues, it’s not.
Issa, as I detailed in a January profile of the California Republican, has become D.C.’s unlikely best friend in Congress. He’s spoken about granting budget autonomy to the District—-so that situations like this one wouldn’t arise—-amending the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, granting the city a bit more leeway on special elections, and even the possibility of allowing the city to collect a commuter tax from the hundreds of thousands of people who work but don’t live here.
We’ll soon see if Issa’s rhetoric is matched by his actions. The D.C. Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission are getting ready to submit their vastly different proposals for changing the Height Act. While the NCPC’s suggestions are very limited, the Office of Planning’s include a complete release from federal guidelines on height maximums outside the historic L’Enfant City. It’ll be up to Congress—-starting with Issa’s committee—-to determine which route to take.
For now, however, Issa’s support of the District’s rights appears to be more than just rhetorical. If Congress does indeed refrain from penalizing the city for continuing to spend the money it’s raised, we’ll likely have our ally in the Capitol to thank.
Read all about Issa’s D.C.-friendly stance and his motivations in the profile here.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery