Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cincinnatus on Connecticut: The Trashy Shutdown Edition

by Peter Brusoe

I have not written lately mainly because I have been at a loss for words about the recent scandals in DC politics. However, the threatened federal shutdown has helped me to find my muse.

Recently I was invited by an old college buddy, now a Democratic Party activist living in New York City, to drop my trash off at Speaker Boehner's house. Aside from the obvious fact that as an apartment renter I have private trash hauling provided by my landlord, I was wondering why I did not have an invite to drop off trash at Harry Reid's place at the Ritz. Perhaps we could finally see MPD issue a ticket for litter.

It stinks that we do not have budget autonomy. It's not right. It shouldn't be. Yet it's a reality we have to deal with. The larger issue here is the total failure of our local elected officials, or our officials-to-be, to represent our interests. Below are four areas of concern.

1) Vince Gray, as the functional equivalent of an "agency head" of the District of Columbia, could have easily declared every single city employee, or at least employees of DPW, "essential" and have exempted them from any shutdown. This would have triggered a court case but would have at least guaranteed the trash getting picked up and city services remaining untouched until such a time as the court could issue a ruling, and maybe that ruling would have help strengthen the case of the budget autonomy. At the same time, we have a mayor who is balancing the budget on the backs of our hardworking city employees. If he declares some of them essential, he could not furlough them to try to balance our budget. Rather than seriously deal with this issue, let's make political hay out of it.

2) Lately I have found myself comparing Vince Gray to Mayor Barry, with his administration's plethora of ethical lapses. However, at least Mayor Barry worked with the House and Senate Leadership to ensure that DC was exempt from the federal shutdown. The only evidence that we have of at any attempt to work with Congress was a hastily and poorly worded letter sent at the eleventh hour. This was not the first threatened shutdown. Yet, time and time again we are seeing that this administration has no idea how to relate to or represent our interests before Congress. Ensuring that we were exempt from a government shutdown should have been at least the second priority of this administration.

3) Where was our real Congressional delegate and where were our shadows on this issue? Delegate Norton made several impassioned speeches and held some photo ops, even going so far as to say "Congress can go to [expletive]." Well, hardly behavior worthy of an elected official, much less a delegate to the greatest democratic body in the world, this type of political posturing and attempting to score cheap political points off of the Republicans was silly. Delegate Norton should have been working collaboratively with the leadership of Congress, working to dialog with civility with her fellow members of Congress. Or she should have been lobbying President Obama to issue an executive order. At the same time, where were our shadow representatives and shadow senators? Perhaps I missed it with all of the coverage of Delegate Norton, the Speaker and the President, but our shadow rep and senators were quiet.

4) Where was Patrick Mara? Supporters of Mara are making the case that we should elect him because he can work with Congressional leadership; he speaks the same language as the Republican party. Yet, for a man who supposedly wields this influence and this concern, Mara was nowhere to be seen, and did nothing to intervene on our behalf.

I am typing this as I am waiting for a bus to return to DC from a day trip to Philadelphia. While in Philadelphia I had the chance to tour Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. I would think that in the great debates about representation, treaty making power, and separation of powers, that if presented with the question of what to do with the Federal City's trash, the founding fathers would have said "Don't be silly."

Hopefully our Congress will find the wisdom of the founders, and hopefully our city leadership will eschew the ethical foibles, and find the competence that Mayor Barry had in working with Congress.


Peter W. Brusoe is a PhD Candidate in the Political Science and adjunct lecturer at American University. Brusoe has a Masters in political science from the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy and a Bachelors in History and Political Science from the University at Albany. In his free time, Peter volunteers with the Woodley Park Community Association, plays tuba for the American University Pep Band, and enjoys watching Great Dane Basketball.

Peter welcomes your comments below. If you have a question or prefer a more immediate response, please email him at peter(dot)brusoe(at)american(dot)edu.


  1. Why Boehner's house instead of Pelosi/Reid's houses? As pointed out on Meet the Press, this is a budget that should have been passed before the fiscal year began last September, well before last November's elections. The last Congress never even presented or voted on a budget as they were required to. They simply voted to continue funding at prior year levels and shifted the responsibility for the budget onto the next Congress.

  2. Why Boehner's house? Because the Republicans are treating District citizens like dirt. It's the Republicans who are forcing riders on the budget bill to control how we spend our own tax dollars. Speaker Boehner doesn't support voting rights for District residents. Shame on him!