Federal Budget Battle Frustrates D.C. Residents
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
People here in Washington D.C. live in the capital of the most powerful democracy in the world. But this city's roughly 600,000 Americans have little political power of their own. And they got a reminder of that last Friday in the negotiations over the federal 2011 budget. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: All day Friday Democratic lawmakers told reporters they were blocking efforts by Republicans to use the budget deal as a way to end funding for women's health programs. But as the midnight deadline for a government shutdown loomed closer, President Obama spoke to House speaker John Boehner. John, I'll give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it, is what the president is reported to have said. And with that an agreement was reached.
What the President gave Boehner were two provisions, one allows Congress to prohibit the use of locally raised tax dollars to pay for abortions for low income women, and the other to fund opportunity scholarships or vouchers, for D.C. school kids.
(Soundbite of rally and chanting)
NAYLOR: It may not have been the most memorable protest chant, but a few hundred enthusiastic demonstrators circled in front of a Senate office building yesterday, angered by what some said was a sell out of their right to self government by Democrats and President Obama. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was among those who addressed the crowd.
Mayor VINCENT GRAY (Washington D.C.): Why is it that somebody should be able to reach into my pocket and say I want to see how much money you have in there. Oh, you have a dollar? Well it may be your money but I'm going to tell you how to spend it. I am sick and tired of being treated that way in the District of Columbia.
(Soundbite of applause and cheers)
NAYLOR: Gray and several D.C. council members were arrested by Capitol Police for sitting down in the middle of Constitution Avenue to protest their lack of Constitutional rights. Health care worker Tonya Kinlow cheered the carefully choreographed arrests. She this is the first time she's been disappointed by the president.
Ms. TONYA KINLOW: The fact that they're saying we can't use D.C. taxes to care for the people in our city the way we want to and that he would buy into that is just unbelievable.
NAYLOR: But not everyone was upset with the riders that lawmakers attached to the budget deal. The opportunity scholarships or vouchers had developed a constituency among Washington residents, before Democrats ended the program when they last had control of Congress. Andrew Campanella is a board member of D.C. Parents for School Choice.
Mr. ANDREW CAMPANELLA (Board member, D.C. Parents for School Choice): Seventy-four percent of district residents want the program the majority of council members with public views on this program support it. Three of our former mayors support it. There is substantial and significant local support for extending this program.
NAYLOR: Campanella says the vouchers will mean some $300 million in funding for Washington's schools over the next five years. D.C. leaders aren't turning down the money, but say it would have been nice to have had some input on whether to restore the program.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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