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Budget deal protest lands D.C. mayor in jail

April 12, 2011

James Oliphant — It may not rank with the passions currently inflaming the Middle East, but the District of Columbia has its own democracy movement--which, from time to time, collides with the priorities of the city's congressional overlords.  

Monday was one of those times. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and several members of the city council were arrested on Capitol Hill for protesting the budget deal struck by House and Senate leaders.  They were released early Tuesday.

Gray, who was elected mayor in November, was arrested for blocking a Senate office building, his office said.  During the protest, Gray said, “This is an absolute travesty. D.C. deserves to be free,” according to a statement.

In particular, Gray and the council members, who included council president Kwame Brown, were upset about provisions attached to the budget compromise which bar the District from using its money to help low-income women obtain abortions  and revive a private school voucher program favored by conservatives.

D.C.’s status as a federal entity means that Congress has the final say over its budget, which has rankled leaders like Gray for years. Fiscal tensions become particularly acute when, as now, Republicans control the House.

 “All we want to do is spend our own money.” Gray said Monday.  “Why should women in the District of Columbia be subjected to a set of rules that no other woman is subjected to?”

He added,  “If we want a school voucher program, we should choose it ourselves.”

About 150 D.C. residents gathered to protest the budget deal—and about 40 were arrested.

Early Tuesday, D.C. council member Tommy Wells tweeted: “Finally got home at 4:45 a.m. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.”

The congressional deal, which is expected to be approved by the House and Senate this week, slashes $38 billion from the 2011 federal budget, but preserves funding for several of President Obama’s key initiatives in healthcare and education.  Democrats were also able to ward off a GOP attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but the D.C. abortion provision survived.  

james.oliphant@latimes.com

Twitter: @jamesoliphant

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