D.C.’s Mayor Vincent Gray Jailed in Protest of Budget Deal

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Decrying what they saw as a trampling of the District of Columbia’s autonomy in a budget deal that could impose new restrictions on the city, Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and other leaders were among 41 people arrested April 11 during a protest on Capitol Hill.

Gray and his cohorts blocked traffic, sat in the street and were later cuffed with plastic ties by U.S. Capitol Police and escorted to jail. The protestors were released hours later with a $50 fine and will have to appear in court for a misdemeanor charge.

“This is an absolute travesty. D.C. deserves to be free,” the mayor said during the protest. “All we want to do is spend our own money.”

Since its founding, the District has been controlled by Congress, which overviews the jurisdiction’s budget and laws. Officials and other home rule advocates say D.C. was used as a pawn in the budget deal struck between President Obama and congressional Republicans.

“District residents have been under concerted, anti-home-rule attacks by Republicans since the first day of the new Congress, but, yesterday, D.C.’s local elected leaders and D.C. residents had had it with Congress and showed the Congress and the country what it means to fight back,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton in a statement Tuesday. While Norton did not participate in the protest, she expressed her strong opposition to the budget plan on the House floor, filing amendments to “protect home-rule.”

The proposed budget compromise resurrects the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—a GOP-backed schools voucher initiative that was terminated by federal and local Democratic leaders in 2009. The District may also be restricted from spending taxpayer dollars to fund abortions for low-income women.

“Why should women in the District of Columbia be subjected to a set of rules that no other woman is subjected to?” Gray said during the protest and added, “If we want a school voucher program, we should choose it ourselves.”

The Senate passed the stopgap bill on April 8 to avert a shutdown and fund the government for a week. The next day President Obama signed the short-term bill, which also included a compromise with Republicans to cut $38 billion in spending for the next six months. The government’s deficit is more than one $1 trillion.

Democrats have a tough fight in the House this year and going forward. For the past four years, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the House, and proved advantageous to the predominately Democratic Washington, D.C. Now, Republicans run the House and have proposed deep budget cuts to curb the nation’s growing deficit. However, some cuts affect social programs, which have Democrats and some citizens in disarray.

In a weekly address by Obama, he said: “Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful – programs people rely on will be cut back; needed infrastructure projects will be delayed—and I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.”

Among those painful cuts, some say, is the funding of abortions for women in D.C. who are on Medicaid.

The Obama administration lifted the ban on funding abortions in 2009, but Republicans reinstated the prohibition this year. According to the nonprofit organization D.C. Abortion Fund, D.C.’s women and girls are the ones who will suffer in this budget fight.

“This fight was not about saving money, but rather a harsh political tactic driven by anti-choice members of Congress,” the organization said in an April 10 statement. “We must fight back.”

The organization says that calls to their hotline have increased in volume—300 percent for the last four years, with an average of 147 calls a month last year.

According to the GOP lawmakers’ spending bill unveiled Tuesday, the needle-exchange program will not be affected as was expected. The bill cuts a little more than $50 million from the District, $30 million less than proposed. Schools will receive $77 million.

Ilir Zherka, the executive director of D.C. Vote, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for more independence for the District and that was responsible for organizing Monday’s protest, told The Associated Press his group intends to fight the passage of this budget. “We’re not going to accept that they decided to throw the District of Columbia under the bus,” Zherka said.

To see a highlighted program cuts, go to: http://republicans.appropriations.house.gov/_files/41211ProgramCutsListFinalFY2011CR.pdf