Bowser to Biden: Order your employees back to the offices, or watch DC die

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

A Democrat mayor of DC calling out a Democrat president? Awww-kward, as Politico notes, and also apparently an act of desperation. In fact, it may get both awkward and desperate enough for Muriel Bowser to endorse a bill from — wait for it — the new House Republican majority.

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At stake: the economic survival of Washington DC. The city has remained almost a ghost town since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the federal shutdowns that have actually never ended. Republicans want to force Biden to order federal workers back to their offices — and so does Bowser:

Bowser’s demand amounted to telling the boss of a lot of her constituents — a good chunk of whom appear to like remote work — to force staff back to the office.

In the process, the Democratic mayor has landed on the same page as some of the most conservative members of the House GOP majority, who last week cosponsored the SHOW UP bill, which would mandate that federal agencies return to their pre-Covid office arrangements within 30 days. House Oversight Committee chair James Comer also signaled plans to turn the panel’s investigatory energy toward alleged telework failures.

Being a person who residents blame when they have to start commuting again — let alone being a blue-city Democrat who makes strange bedfellows with GOP ultras — is the sort of thing usually avoided by a pol skilled enough to win a landslide third term as mayor, as Bowser just did.

But the way the local government sees it, something has to give or else the city is in deep trouble.

What happens when cities shut down? Small businesses that cater to the office-space population wither and die. The initial COVID relief bill addressed that through the Payroll Protection Plan and other targeted small-business relief, but the scope of those programs covered only a few weeks or perhaps a few months at the longest. Many cities and their employers returned to normal work operations within that period, especially in states like Texas and Florida, with no particular difference in outcomes. Most of the rest followed suit after the vaccines became widely available and distributed.

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DC, however, has remained stuck in the shutdown phase. Why? Because the city’s biggest employer is the federal government, and the federal government still claims that a COVID emergency is in place. The reason for that is obvious — Joe Biden and his team want to retain the emergency-decree authority that these continuing declarations allows them to exercise. They are still fighting in court, for instance, to reimpose vaccine and mask mandates on federal contractors and air travelers, respectively, even though we know now that (a) the available vaccines do not prevent transmission and uptake and (b) the masks don’t prevent them either in practice.

Part of that pretense involves keeping federal employees on remote work, even with 92% of the adult population now vaccinated against COVID-19. Even though it makes no sense to keep offices closed, Biden and his administration refuse to order a return to them. Heck, Kevin McCarthy only this week reversed the rule that allowed proxy voting in the House of Representatives for the last two sessions, a rule that Nancy Pelosi refused to reverse for no good reason other than providing an excuse for continued emergency rule.

If Biden and his team force employees back to work, then that ends their pretense of a continuing “emergency.” It will undermine their arguments in court for the mandates that never should have been issued in the first place, and are simply absurd in 2023. It also creates a confrontation between the White House and its civil-service corps, a rather large group of voters concentrated in the DC-northern Virginia area that have become critical for Democrats in keeping Virginia blue, just in time for a presidential election.

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In other words, Bowser’s about to find herself out of luck and out of cash. Her only hope now is that House Republicans pass their bill and that it somehow gets attached to must-pass legislation in the Senate, forcing Biden to sign it. Otherwise, whatever’s left of DC’s small business community will wither up and die, and in its place will come more poverty, crime, and decay. It will be yet another debacle created and exacerbated by Joe Biden and his administration, and it will be no one’s fault but the Democrats who seized emergency power and refuse to let it go.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
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