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City officials outline agenda in push for budget autonomy

Congress ‘gave us up with no reason,’ Norton says

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other city officials vowed Tuesday to banish congressional meddling in city affairs, capitalizing on the momentum for D.C. statehood that landed them in jail the night before.

The activists who now dub themselves the "DC 41" to reflect the number of protesters arrested Monday in an orchestrated event on Capitol Hill said their agenda includes targeting anti-abortion members of Congress, fighting for legislative measures that will give the District budget autonomy and getting arrested again.

Mr. Gray, six D.C. Council members and 34 others were arrested Monday outside the Hart Senate Office Building and briefly held at a U.S. Capitol Police holding facility. Each posted $50 bail and was told to attend a May 5 court hearing.

"We needed to make a statement that what has happened in this budget process and what has happened repeatedly to the District of Columbia is just completely unacceptable," Mr. Gray, a Democrat, said shortly after his release at about midnight.

The protest followed an eleventh-hour bipartisan deal on the fiscal 2011 budget struck by Congress on Friday that, in addition to averting a federal shutdown, prohibits the District from spending local tax dollars on elective abortions and renews a federally funded school voucher program for low-income D.C. students.

The mayor and others complained that D.C. affairs should not have been part of the budget agreement and accused congressional Democrats and Republicans of selling out the city after President Obama reportedly told GOP House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and a staunch voucher proponent, "John, I will give you D.C. I'm not happy about it."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting member of the House who was noticeably absent from Monday's protest, defended herself Tuesday and unleashed another barrage of rhetoric at Republicans and fellow Democrats for tacking on the anti-abortion rider to the federal budget bill.

Mrs. Norton called it the "quintessential rider" and said congressional leaders "gave us up with no reason.

"I decided not to come to the rally [because] I wanted Congress to know this was not put up by me," she said at a news conference outside Planned Parenthood's Washington headquarters, where other speakers vowed to press on for statehood and women's rights.

She punctuated her closing remarks with "the fight is on" and announced that she had introduced legislation earlier in the day to support D.C. budget autonomy.

Some Republicans were more willing Tuesday to give a nod to the Constitution's First Amendment than the actions of D.C. officials and the activists.

"Obviously, they're trying to make a point, a point that has been made in the past," said former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who was grabbing a bite to eat at the Ronald Reagan Building downtown, where Mr. Gray spoke at an Urban Land Institute event before attending the news conference.

"I appreciate the mayor expressing his voice," he said. "But there's a larger story deficit spending. It's real in every state, county and municipality and this city.

"The country's in deep trouble and [elected officials] have to do something now," added Mr. Ehrlich, a congressman when Congress instituted the D.C. financial control board to pull the cash-poor capital out of red ink.

Another Republican, environmentalist Marc Morgan, said he supports statehood and that some women's health services provided by Planned Parenthood are vital. But he also said city hall needs to rein in spending habits to avert the deficits that the District incurs every year.

"They're managing deficits when they should be managing budgets," said Mr. Morgan, who lost a council bid last year to Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. "When you look [at the council] there are no fiscal conservatives. There is no balance."

Robert Brannum, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and arrestee No. 24 on Monday night, told The Washington Times there is a "coordinated strategy involving more community leaders and citizens to stand up for D.C."

"The people have to decide they have enough of Congress interfering in local District affairs. D.C. Democrats need to let the [Democratic National Committee] and congressional Democrats know they are not only in the crosshairs of the Republican Party but also at a crossroads of political integrity," he said.

Laura Meyers, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in the Washington area, said supporters will be looking forward to the 2012 elections and targeting candidates who want to defund her organization.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said her inbox was flooded with emails from people who want to - and were told at the podium that they could - send money to Planned Parenthood.

She then declared, "Let us all be arrested."

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