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POLITICS: PennAve

Senate Democrats upstaged by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton at Capitol rally

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Vincent Gray,Harry Reid,Washington,PennAve,Sean Lengell,Tim Mak,Government Shutdown

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton crashed a news event held by Senate Democrats Wednesday, pressing them to immediately fund the D.C. government.

More than 30 Senate Democrats had gathered outside the Capitol to demand House Republicans accept their terms to end the government shutdown. But their event was overshadowed by a nearby rally held by Gray and Holmes designed to pressure Senate Democrats to pass a D.C.-funding bill that already has cleared the House.

The senators, who seemed caught off-guard by the nearby competing event, continued with their speeches despite shouts of "free D.C." nearly drowning them out.

Gray and Holmes eventually left the D.C. rally and walked the 100 yards over to the Democrats. Gray whispered in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ear shortly before the Nevada Democrat ended the event.

As Reid walked away he told the mayor, "I'm on your side; don't screw it up."

Reid has refused to hold a vote on the legislation to fund the D.C. government, objecting to a piecemeal approach to funding the federal government. But Gray and Holmes Norton have called on the majority leader to pass the House's D.C. bill, saying the District shouldn't be treated as a federal agency.

"We're not a department of the federal government, we're simply asking for their respect," the mayor said. "Just give us an opportunity to spend our own money."

"Now is an opportunity to demonstrate we can function like a state. ... Our taxpayers raise $6 billion a year from income taxes that we pay, property taxes that we pay, sales taxes that we pay, just like every other jurisdiction in America."

The scene made for strange political pairings: the leaders of the District of Columbia, which has never supported a Republican for president, praising Republicans House Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rep. Darrell Issa of California -- a longtime advocate for D.C. rights -- for supporting an emergency D.C. funding bill.

But the situation was also an uncommon experience. With the government shutdown in its ninth day, the mayor noted that the city's funding was exempted from the 1995-1996 government shutdown by its fifth day.

The mayor blasted the federal government for D.C.'s "lack of budget autonomy" and bemoaned the fact that the District had less of a say in its own affairs than Wyoming or Vermont, which have smaller populations.

"We deserve to be able to spend our own money," he said at the D.C. rally.

With Issa in the background, Holmes Norton warned that the city's reserve funds — money the District normally saves for natural disasters and other emergencies and is being used to fund government operations during the shutdown — were dwindling and that it was "shameful now to hold the city's funds to make a federal point."

Issa, the chairman of the committee that deals with D.C. issues, said the city was "caught in the middle of otherwise difficult problems" and pledged that he would work with Congress and the president to ensure that the city would be fully compensated for the money it is spending to stay open.

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