Fed Budget Plan Angers Gray

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: The U.S. Capitol is seen through bare trees on January 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. Earlier today the House of Representatives voted to bring to bring the repeal of the healthcare overhaul to the house floor for formal debate. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

    As many on Saturday heralded the federal budget deal struck late Friday night as a victory for the American people, the mayor of D.C. reacted angrily to the plan's details.

    "While I am relieved that Congress reached an agreement so that our employees can work and services to our residents can continue," said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, "I am also angry and terribly disappointed that the District of Columbia suffered collateral damage amidst partisan bickering."

    Two provisions in the final bill will affect the District's policies.

    Under the agreement reported by the A.P., the city's policy on abortion for women will be overruled by the federal spending bill, and a school charter program opposed by Mayor Vincent Gray will be adopted.

    In the past week's budget battle, the question of women's health funding figured prominently into the debate.  House Republicans had been aggressively pressing to withdraw federal funding for the women's health group Planned Parenthood.  The group performs abortions, although it does not use federal funding for that purpose.

    According to the A.P., the deal that was struck between the two parties and that is set to be signed next week will not affect federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  However, it will change women's health services in D.C. The city will be forbidden from continuing to offer abortions to low-income women, even with its own tax dollars.

    Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton expressed extreme disappointment that women's health policies in D.C. were part of the national budget negotiation.  "This city’s local funds should never have been in a fight over the federal budget," she said on Saturday.

    A D.C. school voucher program that has been championed by House Speaker John Boehner is also reported to be part of the final bill. The voucher program, called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, would allow D.C. students to use federal vouchers to attend private schools.  Mayor Vincent Gray has been an opponent of such a plan, which he has said would undermine the city's existing public and charter schools.  Although opposed by Gray and education chancellor Kaya Henderson, Boehner's federal voucher program has been supported by City Council chairman Kwame Brown.

    The District avoided the more dire outcomes that would have come with a budget failure and a federal shutdown.  The city, considered a federal entity in the eyes of congress, would have furloughed sanitation workers, road crews, and parking ticket writers, greatly slowing down the day-to-day operations of city government.

    But the budget agreement that helped avoid that scenario brought little relief to D.C.'s elected government. 

    “We knew that the House Republicans were on the attack when they took our vote in the Committee of the Whole on the first day of this Congress," Norton said.  "What we did not anticipate was that the Administration and Senate Democrats would roll over and use our right to self-govern as a bargaining chip."

    Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement late Friday night on a final budget bill, but the entire text has yet to be written.  A short budget extension will be passed Saturday, so that the final bill can be authored.  A vote on that bill, which is expected to pass into law, will happen during the middle of next week.