Gray has become an increasingly vocal critic of the shutdown

October 11, 2013
(Photo by Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
(Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post)

As the government shutdown has continued, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has become an increasingly vocal critic of the impasse and what it means for the city.

Before the shutdown began, Gray moved to keep the District’s government open and operational. He said all of the D.C. government’s activities were essential in an attempt to keep the government running. Officials also tapped a $144 million reserve fund, which would support government functions for a limited time.

Still, multiple D.C. government payments had to be suspended. Payments were halted to publicly-funded health programs, many of them serving low-income residents. The District failed to deliver a $74 million payment to Metro. And Gray has also dispatched city workers to do things like clean federal parks in the absence of federal workers.

The center of the issue is the District’s funding, which is ultimately controlled by Congress — even local tax revenue.

But there is also the lurking issue about how the District, home to Congress and the White House, is treated by the government. Bills focused on D.C. statehood or expanded rights for District residents have come up again and again (and again, and again, and again) but fallen short.

The House of Representatives passed a measure last week letting the District spend its local funds and operate normally through Dec. 15. But the White House and Democrats in the Senate have said they are opposed to piecemeal funding bills, so that bill hasn’t gone anywhere.

A week into the shutdown, Gray’s tenor began to shift. He publicly demanded meetings with President Obama and leaders in Congress to explain why the D.C. budget should be exempted 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,” Gray wrote in the letter.

Gray followed that by confronting Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid on the Capitol steps, a public and dramatic moment captured by scores of reporters and camera crews.

“Sir, we are not a department of the government,” Gray told Reid. “We’re simply trying to be able to spend our own money.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District in Congress, has also been a vocal critic. She had what some colleagues called “a heated exchange” with President Obama during a White House meeting this week, pressing Obama to support a bill letting D.C. use its local tax funds.

Gray told a large crowd on Thursday that the shutdown threatens “thousands of our most vulnerable residents,” warning about the potential impact on a range of city services.

This shutdown has become the longest one experienced by D.C. While the District was affected by the November 1995 shutdown for five days, it was exempted from the 21-day shutdown that stretched from December 1995 into January 1996.

Visit our shutdown liveblog for the latest updates.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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