- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The D.C. government is open for business now, but a protracted political battle over the federal budget raises questions about how the city would continue to pay for its operations, Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday.

The House passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the city to use its local funds to pay for services until Dec. 15, but the bill would still have to be approved by the Senate, where Democrats have railed against any such “piecemeal” legislation.

Republicans and Democrats signaled Wednesday that the shutdown, which furloughed 800,000 federal employees, could last for weeks and bleed into a debate expected later this month over raising the federal debt ceiling.

The District is using money from a $144 million contingency fund to pay its employees while awaiting congressional approval of its own budget, but officials say that amount will only fund the city for about two weeks.

“Every day that goes by, it is an unconscionable, reprehensible shame that we continue to be included in this nonsense,” Mr. Gray said.

“There certainly could come a point when we are out of funds that we can quote-unquote legitimately use, and then it really is as they say a throw down,” he said.

The dispute creates an unlikely friction with Democratic senators in Maryland and Virginia, who are towing the party lines and voiced opposition to any agency-specific legislation that doesn’t address the budget as a whole.

“A piecemeal approach does not deal with the issue. It is an illusion,” Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, said at a Wednesday morning news conference at the Capitol. “What they need to do is pass a continuing funding resolution; we recommend for six weeks.”

As a federal enclave, the city is prevented from spending its own taxpayer money without budget approval from Congress.

If the shutdown continues and the money in the city’s contingency fund runs dry, D.C. leaders could be forced to take other action to fund city agencies.

Spending unappropriated funds from the city’s $12.1 billion fiscal 2014 budget would put city leaders in violation of the federal Antideficiency Act, which prohibits spending if an appropriations plan is not in place.

Mr. Gray said he’s asked the city’s chief financial officer to explore other options that could fund government operations in the meantime, noting the city has other reserves it may be able to draw upon.

Last week, Mr. Gray declared all employees and city services essential in a shutdown plan submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, which provides guidance for federal agencies during a shutdown. But on Wednesday he said he remains uncertain about the city’s obligations under the plan.

“I am not absolutely sure what the plan entitles us to,” Mr. Gray said, adding he hasn’t gotten official confirmation that it was accepted by federal authorities. “At some stage we could be faced with the question of have we entered the area of being in non-compliance with the Antideficiency Act.”