D.C. Mayor Crashes Senators' Press Conference

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scolded D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday after Gray crashed a Senate press conference as part of his campaign against the federal government shutdown.

"I'm on your side," snapped Reid (D-Nev.), to the D.C. mayor. "Don't screw it up, OK. I'm on your side."

Gray is calling on city residents to join him in speaking out against the federal government shutdown. He appeared Wednesday morning alongside D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) at a rally outside the Capitol, steps from the site of another event headlined by Reid.

After Gray's rally, the mayor went over to Reid's press conference and stood next to him, then tried to talk to him, demanding a vote to let D.C. spend its own money. That's when Reid gave him the terse response.

Gray and Norton said they weren't sure what he meant by it.

Senate Democrats have opposed approving funding for some things and not others instead of approving a budget.

The District is in a precarious position as the federal government shutdown grinds through a second week. The District can only spend money that has been approved by Congress -- even if the money was raised from local taxes and fees. 

The District has money in a reserve fund that had previously been appropriated -- but now, the District is starting to delay payments as it tries to stretch those reserves. Tax refunds have been delayed, and now some city payees are suffering as well.

At the Gray event, Norton said the situation in D.C. is "growing desperate."

"The city's previously appropriated contingency reserve fund, envisioned for unforeseen events like natural disasters, dwindles as it copes with a crisis that is as unnatural as it is artificial and unnecessary," Norton added.

One of the groups severely impacted by the shutdown is the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights, which is owed more than $600,000 in federal and district funds. That money is locked away because of the government shutdown.

"It's the worst it's ever been," said Lori Kaplan, the president of the Latin American Youth Center. "...Probably 500 kids and families affected every day."

The Latin American Youth Center has 10 locations across the area, serving more than 5,000 needy families by offering job training, medical assistance, counseling and education programs. More than half of the center's 150 employees are furloughed. And as the center is forced to cut back, essential employees are left working only part-time.

For now, the Latin American Youth Center will be opening three hours late, but it will still offer essential services to its most vulnerable clients, like homeless teens and children in foster care.

"Even though we're not getting paid and have no contract, we're caring for them or else they'd be on the street," Kaplan said.

The center has turned to online donations to help their cause.

The shutdown has rekindled frustration that the District is not able to approve its own budget. Wednesday, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso boycotted Gray's rally, adding that the District "should forge ahead and do what needs to be done."

"The money is ours. Continuing to ask for permission to spend our money is accepting the status quo, accepting injustice and ceding the power of the purse to the federal government," Grosso said.

On Tuesday, Gray demanded a meeting with President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Reid.

Norton said the meeting is "the least that he and the city are entitled to."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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