Loose Lips

D.C. Could Break the Law, Defy Congress Over Government Shutdown

Mayor Vince Gray and members of the D.C. Council were supposed to talk this morning about preparations for a partial shutdown of the city government in the event of a federal government shutdown. Instead, they left breakfast considering a plan that would keep the city government open and break federal law.

During a presentation from City Administrator Allen Lew on what would happen during a shutdown (less garbage collection, only two-thirds of city employees on the job), At-Large Councilmember David Grosso proposed continuing to spend the city's money without congressional approval. Grosso's idea soon gained traction among councilmembers and the mayor, both as a way to keep services running and gain publicity for D.C. budget autonomy.

The breakfast discussion moved Gray to postpone a press conference scheduled for this afternoon with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, where he'd planned to discuss the shutdown preparations. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Gray plan to meet later today to discuss averting a local shutdown, with Mendelson promising to introduce a bill by Tuesday that would keep the District government running. Mendelson tells LL that he has the required nine votes to pass the bill.

Because the District's budget has to be approved by Congress, staying open without a law allowing the city's money to be spent would violate the federal Anti-Deficiency Act. The consequences for defying the law could be dire: Attorney General Irv Nathan said at the meeting that the mayor and city employees would be eligible for fines and two years in prison. More seriously for the District at large, Nathan said breaking the law could lead to the dissolution of the Home Rule Act and Gray's exit from office.

"In my view, it would be inappropriate for elected officials, government officials to basically engage in civil disobedience and subject the District to significant adverse legal consequences," Nathan said.

Grosso doubted that the Department of Justice would pursue the District for trying to spend its own money: "I can't imagine how Eric Holder would come in and arrest anyone of us for doing this."

Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi initially said that he would be unable to appropriate money to the city for fear of violating the law, but eventually conceded that he would probably be able to pay the salaries of "essential" city employees, even if the Council and mayor declared all employees to be essential.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • DCShadyBoots

    Here's tea, the Mayor, Council and CFO are right. It is time for Congress to catch fire and keep their sticky paws off locally collected tax dollars. KEEP DC OPEN!!!

  • name

    "The consequences for defying the law could be dire: Attorney General Irv Nathan said at the meeting that the mayor and city employees would be eligible for fines and two years in prison. More seriously for the District at large, Nathan said breaking the law could lead to the dissolution of the Home Rule Act and Gray's exit from office."

    Oh, please, oh please, oh, please defy congress....

    It could be the only way to wipe the slate clean.

  • drez

    Fighting foolishness with more foolishness.

  • Barrie Daneker

    Here's the story that should push the council to move forward with electing the AG. AG Nathan may advise us on the law but where is his commitment to DC and it's residents. Please DC council move forward with the election of the AG so we can rid ourselves of Irv Nathan. He's not been the AG we all not only need but deserve. BYE BYE NATHAN!

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  • JimA

    It would be irresponsible for the DC government to defy federal law as proposed.

    Councilmembers should be careful. If they defy the Feds over a budget issue, they sen a message to agency heads in DC government The message is: Agencies can defy the Council on budget matters.

    Laws matter. Legislators should know better.

    BTW, How would the Council feel about DC residents who refused to comply with DC tax law or parking fees?

  • noodlez






  • Typical DC BS

    Ho hum. More idiotic rantings by powerless DC politicians. Funny how they follow Obumbler's lead in ignoring laws they don't feel like following when they get their panties in a bunch.

  • DCShadyBoots

    The read is, it isn't "foolish" to use civil disobedience to defy an inappropriate congressional overstep. It is wholly slave minded people that are just afraid to stand up for themselves.

    Just sayin'

  • drez

    Your read is wrong. It's one thing for citizens- you and me- to engage in civil disobedience. I think that is fine, and even appropriate in some circumstances. I even approve of mass civil disobedience in extraordinary cases- such as civil rights issues, including our present "taxation without representation" problem.
    However, it is quite another thing for a local government to actively (as opposed to passively, such as through lack of enforcement) disobey the federal government. That is and should not be permissible. There are few good and many bad examples of this happening.
    I would expect the Feds to take legal action against us if we did this.

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  • Anonymous,Too

    Pass me that spliff, Grosso!

  • JimA

    DCshadyboots, your comment is ignorant. Civil Disobedience is not supposed to be done by governments. Duh.

    Also, if you actually read proponents of Civil disobedience such as Justice Abe Fortas and King, you see that such thinkers state that people who engage in civil disobedience must willingly accept the consequences of their actions.

  • DCShadyBoots

    @JimA, yo' mama is ignorant, fool.

  • JimA

    Dcshadyboots, being an ignorant ghetto rat is not something to be proud of. Go get your GED.

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  • Wilhelm Ogle

    Please keep the city open.
    Not only would it be a violation of Federal law and contemptuous of the Constitution, it could be argued as being an act to harm the US economy (a stated goal of Al Qaeda), thus; an act giving aid and comfort to the enemy during a time of war.
    That leaves the Feds with a choice of punishments for the mayor and council: Life in prison for Sedition or being hanged for Treason. I perfer the latter.
    Regardless, the illegal Home Rule Act will be no more than a piece of paper.

  • Will Sommer

    @Wilhelm How would keeping city gov running hurt the economy? I think it'd be the opposite.

  • DCShadyBoots

    Well, considering the CFO has intimated it would illegal for him to pay city employees who reported to work, I don't think Gray and the Council stand a chance. I don't think there will be any takers to work for free.

    Budgetary autonomy is a must.

  • Wilhelm Ogle

    As they will be spending Federal money without authorization, they will be adding to the deficit. That is how to argue they would be harming the economy.
    All it takes is the act, not the degree of harm, to merit either punishment.

  • JimA

    DCshadyboots, reading comprehension is important. If you read the article above, you'd see something. (The article isn't that long.)

    You'd see that Dr Gandhi said that he could pay essential city employees. We had a government shutdown in the 1990s. I was here for it. The City functioned. Trash got collected, police officers worked.

    The Mayor could declare school and library employees to be essential.

    The City Council staff would not be essential.

  • DCShadyBoots

    Considering the Attorney General has warned of the potential for criminal liability on public officials who attempt to circumvent Congressional appropriation requirements on the District, we'll see if Dr. Ghandi, Mayor Gray or any Council member takes that chance.

    The city is required to submit shutdown plans to the Office of Management and Budget, under whose rules only employees in key financial positions or engaged in activities “bearing a reasonable relationship to the safety of human life or the protection of property” may remain on the job. I don't see the majority of the 30,000 city employees falling under that category. Then city's intent would be clear if the council passed legislation right before a shutdown making them all "essential".

    I don't think that they are going to take that chance. God Forbid this Congress rescind the Home Rule Act and force the city back into the chains of financial slavery.

  • Wilhelm Ogle

    The mayor has just declared EVERY city employee "essential". Attempting to circumvent Congress and the law, it appears the mayor is looking forward to his retirement to a federal penitentiary.

  • DCShadyBoots

    I don't think he is going to jail. Phil Mendelson is introducing a bill to the Council making the same declaration. There is no precedent for a politician going to jail for violating the Anti-Deficiency law.

    I don't see the President pressing the AG to press for criminal charges.

  • Wilhelm Ogle

    1. Phil's fig leaf cover bill isn't going to pass the laugh test. A feeble legislative attempt to get around a stand law just shows what clowns these fools are.
    2. You forget, Holder is stepping down. He won't be there to protect his friends in DC government from their folly much longer.

  • Wilhelm Ogle

    Standing law

  • DCShadyBoots

    @ Wilhelm Ogle wrote: "You forget, Holder is stepping down. He won't be there to protect his friends in DC government from their folly much longer."

    With friends like AG Holder local politicians don't need any enemies. Ask Harry Thomas Jr, Kwame Brown and the host of political figures his office has targeted over the last few years.

  • DCShadyBoots

    Eric Holder isn't stepping down. More likely, he leaves office when Obama leaves office in 2016.

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