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The District government is bracing for a potential federal government shutdown. In the past, that could mean the partial loss of trash pickup and many other city services. Now lawmakers are mulling a plan to defy Congress and keep the city government open.
A spokesperson for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson confirms that a bill will be introduced next Tuesday deeming all city government employees "essential personnel."
Because the District government is treated as a federal agency under the law, only essential, life-saving city services like police, the fire department and public schools, are allowed to stay open during a federal government shutdown. That means everything else in D.C., including libraries, trash pickup and recreation centers gets halted.
By designating all workers and services "essential," though, the city theoretically can operate business as usual.
The plan has the support of a number of legislators, and Mayor Vince Gray himself said he would be willing to go along with the plan if the Council backed it. One skeptic, though, is D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan, who says that it would violate federal law and put officials at risk of arrest.
"That's a risky business and it has the potential to violate the Anti-Deficiency Act, [and] that carries criminal penalties with it," Nathan says.
Nathan says he fears that any attempts to bypass Congress could backfire, costing D.C. autonomy. In April the city's voters endorsed a referendum allowing the city more flexibility in spending its own money, though Congress has cast a skeptical eye on the measure, which goes into effect in January.
Some Council members insist that a fight, with the risk of arrests, fines and the attention it might bring, could help highlight D.C.'s plight.
"D.C. is the only local jurisdiction impacted in this manner and one thing is true, if D.C. were San Antonio, there would be a battle at the Alamo over this," said Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) in a statement.
Nathan, who before becoming attorney general was the House of Representatives' top lawyer, remains skeptical.
"I would point out they have taken oath to uphold the law, and if you engage in civil disobedience you have to take the consequences and the victims of the consequences could as well be the District," he says.