How Long Can D.c. Defy The Shutdown? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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How Long Can D.C. Defy the Shutdown?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:10
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and what a week it's been here in Washington. We started things off with a shutdown.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

00:00:17
All of this is entirely preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER

00:00:24
The House has made its position known very clearly. We believe that we should fund the government and we think there ought to be basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare.

SHEIR

00:00:35
And as the week went on, we found ourselves in the midst of lockdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:00:40
At 2:18 this afternoon there was a vehicle in the vicinity of the White House that apparently attempted to pass a barricade.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

00:00:48
Capitol Police immediately ordered a lockdown of the House chamber and called all these members in off of the balcony and we were…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3

00:00:56
Shots were potentially fired. They pursued the vehicle. The vehicle came, struck one of our vehicles here at--

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:01:04
The lockdown has been lifted. School children in the area are being let out at their regular times. And the scene on Capitol Hill appears to be returning to some state of normalcy, although this is certainly not normal on any given day.

SHEIR

00:01:17
Those last sounds we heard were, of course, from Capitol Hill, where chaos erupted on Thursday amidst a burst of gunfire outside the Hart Senate Office Building. That gunfire marked yet another moment of crisis for a city still reeling from the Navy Yard shootings. A city now wondering when the government shutdown will end and the normalcy, that's been so rare of late, will finally return. So as we wrap up this roller coaster of a week, our theme for this edition of the show is "Ups and Downs."

SHEIR

00:01:47
And people who are especially feeling those ups and downs right about now are federal workers. We caught up with a few of them on the shutdown's very first day. They were taking advantage of happy hour at Graffiato, one of many restaurants offering free or discounted food and drinks to furloughed employees this week.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

00:02:03
I think it's a bunch of nonsense. I think our government is embarrassing us as a nation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3

00:02:08
You know, what can you do? We look at it like, okay, this is happening. You watch the news and just hope and anticipate it doesn't affect you, but it's affecting us all.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4

00:02:16
You know, they're wasting our time. They're wasting our money. They're putting people out of work. And they're being a bunch of children.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5

00:02:21
The government just is playing games with our lives and I think a lot of the politicians have forgotten what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck, as a lot of people do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4

00:02:28
You know, if we're essential, non-essential, everyone's doing something important. So we all really want to get back to work and continue doing our jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6

00:02:34
My husband and I are both federal employees. So it will affect us very much when we don't get our next paycheck.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5

00:02:40
And the people on the Hill that are making the decisions, they're working, they're getting paid and they're not even doing their job. They shouldn't be getting paid either.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7

00:02:47
Today I did not do a whole lot, but probably tomorrow I'll try to find a part-time job.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8

00:02:52
I was thinking today--I was, like, oh, my gosh, there's all this D.C. stuff that I haven't done. I can go to all these museums. No. I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6

00:03:00
I've got to pay my mortgage, you know. I don't want to use savings. I don’t want to have to put my mortgage on a credit card. I mean, that's ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9

00:03:07
I think the approval rating of Congress is going to go down. And then there are going to finally realize that somebody's going to need to budge, somebody's going to need to back down a little bit and agree to something they don't really want to do.

SHEIR

00:03:20
Those were federal workers speaking with "Metro Connection's" Lauren Landau. And as they and many other federal employees waiting for some sort of breakthrough this week, city workers found themselves in a different situation altogether, as they continued to report for duty. I recently met up with WAMU 88.5 District reporter Patrick Madden at the John A. Wilson Building, home of D.C.'s City Government. And he explained that Mayor Vincent Gray's decision to keep things running during a federal government shutdown isn't exactly business as usual.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:03:48
That's right. This is surprising about everything that's happening with the shutdown right now. The District government, for all intents and purposes is open and running. Now in the past that wasn't the case. Usually, most of the city services were shut down, parks, rec centers, libraries, trash pickup. And that's because the District is considered a federal agency for budget purposes. The District has to have its spending approved by Congress. And so when the federal government shuts down that means the District shuts down.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:04:17
But what happened in this case is that Mayor Gray decided that he was going to declare everyone essential -- not just the police and firefighters that usually stay on during a shutdown, but everyone. And so that means that the city is open and running and what happens next -- it's still unclear.

SHEIR

00:04:37
Well, how long, realistically, can the D.C. government keep the government open? I mean, I guess we're running on reserves, right? And that reserve fund can't last forever.

MADDEN

00:04:45
Right. So to pay for everyone to work right now the city is tapping into its emergency and contingency cash funds, these so-called rainy day funds. And so basically it would give us, I think, about two weeks to pay for everyone. And after that they would have to sort of move in to the more traditional shutdown mode where just the essential, the critical employees are on duty.

SHEIR

00:05:07
Does this decision to stay open create any tension between the District government and Congress?

MADDEN

00:05:12
Well, there always is tension between the District and the federal government, and that tension is usually heightened when we have these situations like a federal government shutdown, where the District really gets the short end of the stick. The city, unlike any other city in the U.S., normally it can’t do trash pickup, it can’t have its libraries open and parks. And so whenever these types of situations occur there always is increased tension.

MADDEN

00:05:35
Now, whether this move by Mayor Gray helps or hurts the District cause is up for debate. Republican Congressman Daryl Issa, now, he's head of this committee that oversees D.C. He's pretty much the most important person for district affairs. It sounds like he is on board with what Mayor Gray is doing. And so that is a very important step. And that could help further the District's cause for getting budget autonomy down the road. I mean, this could actually end up helping the District get more budget autonomy.

SHEIR

00:06:02
What about voting rights, full voting rights in Congress?

MADDEN

00:06:04
I mean, that's a whole other story. I think the way District voting rights activists view this, as it's sort of steps up the ladder. If we can get more budget autonomy, then the next step may be having the District's delegate in Congress have more power in Congress. And then just slowly getting more right, more autonomy so that eventually we can one day have a vote in Congress.

SHEIR

00:06:28
So we've been talking about this reserve fund that the District has been running on. Is there anything else in particular the city was planning to use that money for?

MADDEN

00:06:34
Well, like I said, this is the city's rainy-day fund. It is there for emergencies ad I believe it's up a billion dollars. And it serves a very important purpose for Wall Street bond rating, sort of showing that the city has a lot of fiscal stability. But as the Mayor and others will point out, this is pretty much an emergency for the city when it can't provide city services like it normally can. So that's what it's there for.

MADDEN

00:06:55
And then I guess the question is will the city be reimbursed for paying all of these workers. And that's a big question and the answer isn't clear yet.

SHEIR

00:07:05
Politically speaking, Patrick, how do you expect Mayor Gray and the council to look, coming out of this crises? I mean, looking at the public and how the public is viewing all of this, is there a sense that most members of the public approve of the decision being made or are there concerns about the decision to declare the entire city government essential?

MADDEN

00:07:19
I mean, I think this is a big win for the city and for the mayor and for the council because it really showed, one, that they sort of stood up to Congress. They stood up for the District and said we’re not going to be treated like any other federal agency. We are a city. We are spending our own locally-raised tax dollars to provide services to our residents. So in that case I think it is a big win. Yes, there are some people who will point out that, yeah, maybe politically speaking you're right, you know, the city should have everyone working, but legally speaking, you know, it's pretty clear definition that only critical services.

MADDEN

00:07:52
So there are folks who say this wasn't a bright move, but I think all in all, this was a big victory for the mayor, for Congresswoman Norton and for the council.

SHEIR

00:08:01
Well, District reporter Patrick Madden, thank you so much for joining me today.

MADDEN

00:08:04
Thank you so much.
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