Vincent Gray demands meeting with Obama, congressional leaders on shutdown

October 8, 2013

Vincent Gray is upping the rhetoric as the District’s shutdown-avoidance options run out. (Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post)

One week into the federal shutdown, District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has issued a public demand for meetings with President Obama and leaders of the House and Senate, hoping to prod them into exempting the city budget from the ongoing impasse.

The letter comes as the District’s “Plan B” strategy of spending down a special reserve fund approaches an end. The fund is unlikely to support city government functions much beyond Oct. 15, when $98 million in employee paychecks are due.

“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 Tuesday to Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “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.”

In his letter, Gray appears to foreclose on the possibility that the District government might remain open after the reserve funds are depleted — perhaps in an act of civil disobedience that has seen some support from city leaders. Once the fund is exhausted, Gray writes, “there will be severely negative consequences for us.”

Gray also identified some new and dramatic consequences should the shutdown continue — including, for the first time, suggesting that public safety might be placed in jeopardy: Federal grants “essential for the continued protection of strategic and high-visibility targets” have been placed on hold while the congressional showdown plays out.

Gray also said the District could soon be prevented from making a quarterly scheduled payment to the city’s 60 charter schools, “many of which will be unable to absorb this blow to their finances.”

The District government is affected by the federal shutdown because, under the terms of home rule, its budget is ultimately appropriated by Congress even though the vast majority of its funds are locally raised or are federal grants and programs also available to states. The House passed a bill last week that would fund the D.C. government through Dec. 15, but Senate Democrats and the White House have thus far adopted a strategy of rejecting the House’s piecemeal funding bills.

A Gray administration official not authorized to comment publicly said last week that the mayor had personally spoken to Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, urging Obama to support and sign a D.C. funding bill. But the administration has held fast to its no-small-bills strategy and has thus far shown no indication of making an exception for the District.

That stance frustrated Gray last week. “I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand that we’re not a department of the federal government,” he said at a media event, saying he believed Obama and Reid could make the case that D.C. is different from the other piecemeal bills passed by Republicans.

In his letter, Gray said he has “done all that I possibly can to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of District residents is not endangered by a crisis that our city has had no hand in creating.”

“But time is running out,” he continued, “and, soon, I will have exhausted every resource available to me to protect our residents, our workers and our visitors.”


Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | October 8, 2013