As the power shifts
With the Democrats poised to take control of Congress next year, local leaders are split over the effect the majority party will have on certain domestic programs but predict that generally Congress will be more receptive to discussions with them. A recent scorecard for the 109th Congress compiled by the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo) showed that the Democrats “seemed to vote in support of our issues slightly more than Republicans,” says the association’s Deputy Legislative Director Jeff Arnold. Nevertheless, he says it still will be hard to tell quickly how some programs, such as the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), will fare because the margin on the scorecard is narrow.
House Democratic leaders have begun prioritizing their goals for the first 100 hours of the new Congress, which include implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, raising the minimum wage, and working to achieve energy independence.
“We have been very interested in the priorities the Democrats have pronounced and are already in some discussions with them,” says Tom Cochran, executive director of the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors. He also says mayors will support efforts to raise the minimum wage and implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Donald Borut, executive director of the Washington-based National League of Cities, adds that officials hope they will get some help from the Democrats on high-priority issues, including immigration reform. “We want to make sure there is a comprehensive approach to address the 12 to 13 million illegal immigrants here now and the costs cities are bearing,” he says.
To prevent new deficit spending, the Democratic leadership says it wants to impose a pay-as-you-go process, but some officials are worried that could negatively affect certain programs. “What happens when you want to beef up homeland security? What [would the federal government] cut to fund other things, such as CDBG?” Arnold says. “In that case, an entitlement jurisdiction could be OK, but if the state program was cut, that would be bad for all other jurisdictions,” he says.
Borut also is concerned about the importance Democrats place on local government authority. “There is a general acknowledgement by conservatives of the value and importance of government closest to people having authority, so now an increase of preemption or taking away of authority is of concern,” he says.
Overall, most officials do not see the Democratic majority bringing any major, imminent changes. “We believe in the long run, we will have more of a partnership with the leadership,” Cochran says. However, he notes that local government leadership is non-partisan. “We have to give credit to Republican members who have supported us [on issues like CDBG].”
“You could say that the Democrats were slightly more supportive, but it’s really an issue by issue thing,” says Colleen Landkamer, commissioner, Blue Earth County, Minn., and NACo president. However, she vows to “aggressively fight for necessary federal funding for critical county programs, to protect county authorities, and to oppose unfunded mandates.”
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.