Striding across the Capitol Plaza to crash a news conference by senators from his own party earned D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray a rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but no clarity on what the District’s fate may as the federal government shutdown drags on.
“I’m on your side . . . don’t screw it up,” the Nevada Democrat scolded the mayor on the steps of the Capitol, before turning and heading up the stairs.
Answers Gray wanted to hear — on whether the Senate would vote on a bill to allow the District to spend locally raised funds, and how Congress might avert the funding crisis threatening the city’s Medicaid providers, emergency responders and transportation — were lacking.
Gray was fuming over a local budget “held hostage” by his own party. The mayor hopped a barricade following an 11 a.m. news conference on the East Lawn with charter school leaders, health care providers and regional fire and rescue representatives all demanding congressional action to free D.C.’s budget from the congressional appropriations stalemate.
The decision to directly confront the Democrats was impromptu, Gray later told reporters.
Urged forward by the chants and applause of dozens of District residents, he barged through a line of Capitol Police, drawing wide-eyed looks of surprise from Reid and his fellow Democrats.
Gray waited patiently to the right of the podium for the Democrats’ final speaker on the urgent need to raise the debt ceiling to conclude — while getting side-long glances from the senators assembled above him on the steps of the building. But Gray, who was soon joined by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, heard nothing new.
When questioned by reporters, Reid offered no clarity on prospects for the D.C. funding bill, saying it was up to House Republicans. Democrats want Speaker John A. Boehner to allow a vote on a clean continuing resolution, and have so far rejected the Ohio Republican’s piecemeal approach to reopening the government.
As the Democrats dispersed, Sen. Barbara Boxer turned back with a message for Gray and Norton, telling them, “We’ve got to open up this government for all the good people in D.C.”
Gray cut in.
“We’re not a department of the government. All we’re asking is to spend our own money,” he said.
Boxer continued talking over the mayor. “It’s not about a department,” she responded before she was drowned out by the mayor.
Gray pressed on, saying, “We’re just asking to spend our own money. Our own money. Not the federal money. Our own money.
“We’re talking about the money of the people of the District of Columbia that shouldn’t be held hostage up here,” he said pointing to the Dome as he spoke.
Local budget autonomy advocates, including DC Vote, have been encouraging Gray to take action that flies in the face of federal law. They want the mayor to spend local tax dollars anyway. The move violates the Antideficiency Act that prohibits officers or employees of the D.C. government from authorizing spending not appropriated by Congress.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.