On this ninth day of the government shutdown, Senate Democrats were confronted by a party crasher – the mayor of Washington, D.C.
As Senate Democrats held a news conference on the Capitol steps calling on Republicans to end the government shutdown, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton held their own news conference just across the plaza asking for Congress to fund the District of Columbia.
When Gray and Holmes wrapped up their news conference, Gray made his way over to the Capitol steps and approached Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The D.C. mayor was not invited but speak, but the crowd assembled across the plaza chanted, “Free D.C.! Free D.C.,” at times drowning out the Senate Democrats at the podium.
With Gray standing off to the side, Reid was asked whether the Senate would vote on a measure to fund the D.C. government.
“Talk to the Republicans. They’re the ones objecting to it,” Reid said.
As the news conference ended, Gray approached Reid to discuss funding for the District of Columbia. Reid reportedly told Gray “I’m on your side, O.K.? Don’t screw it up.”
Gray told reporters it was unclear what Reid meant by his comment. The conversation between the D.C. mayor and the Senate majority leader was the first since the government shut down last week.
Gray and Norton Holmes are urging the Senate to act on a measure passed by the House last week that would restore funding for Washington, D.C. Gray argued that the district should be handled differently from other government agencies.
“We’re not like anything else. We’re a city. We’re simply asking for the opportunity to spend our own money,” Gray told reporters.
Congress controls Washington, D.C.’s funding, causing the city to face shutdown after Congress failed to pass a funding measure last week. But Mayor Gray opted to keep the D.C. government open on reserve funds, but they’re nearing depletion.
On Tuesday, Gray sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting with him and congressional leaders to discuss exempting Washington, D.C., from the shutdown.
“In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown. Families in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas are not worried that their local governments won’t be able to maintain basic services like schools, police and fire protection, or trash collection – and neither should families here in the District of Columbia,” Gray wrote. “But once again, our citizens find themselves innocent bystanders to a federal government shutdown – made even more insulting because we have no voting voice in Congress – and an archaic and unjust federal law prevents us from spending our own local tax dollars to provide services for which our residents have already paid. This is simply unconscionable. And it is long past time for the District’s budget to be decoupled from the federal budget.”