DC For Obama Furious Over Budget Deal

DC For Obama Furious Over Budget Deal

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's grassroots supporters in the District of Columbia are furious with the president for letting Republicans mess with the city as part of the budget process.

"Just a couple of weeks ago we were ramping up to have a great kickoff to this new campaign," said Adam Barr, founder of DC for Obama.

Barr said his grassroots group, which is not affiliated with Obama's official campaign, knocked on more than 100,000 doors for Obama in Virginia ahead of the 2008 election. Barr said more than 250 people had already signed up for an April 28 campaign launch party.

Barr's enthusiasm has faded. "We may end up postponing indefinitely," Barr said. "We may also just hold it and use that time as strategy to fight back against the White House and Congress."

Under a budget deal hatched late last week, the city will be banned from using local funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. A school voucher program that is a pet project of congressional Republicans will be expanded.

The city's 600,000 residents pay federal taxes but do not have full representation in the House or Senate, where lawmakers can dictate city affairs as they wish. The new restrictions roll back some of the autonomy given the city by a Democratic Congress in recent years.

Republicans had dug in on their demands to cut funds to national nonprofits that provide abortion services. As a government shutdown loomed, Obama reportedly told House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), "John, I will give you D.C. abortion," according to the Washington Post. "I am not happy about it."

"It highlights the status to which Republicans relegate the District of Columbia," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during a briefing Tuesday. "Again they demonstrate that the citizens of the District of Columbia do not have the right to make their own decisions on the application of their own tax revenues."

Many D.C. locals are furious that Obama apparently used the city as a bargaining chip in federal budget negotiations.

In email blasts, Barr encouraged his group's 16,000 subscribers to attend a protest organized by advocacy group DC Vote outside a Senate office building on Monday afternoon. At the protest, Capitol Police arrested 41 people for blocking the street, including D.C. mayor Vince Gray (D) and six members of the D.C. Council.

Barr had been especially angry over reports that the budget deal would also include a "policy rider" that would reinstate a ban on the city using its own funds to pay for funding for needle exchange programs designed to curtail the spread of disease among drug users.

"The needle exchange is the most egregious of these riders," Barr said. The administration's own AIDS policy boosts needle exchange as one of five strategies for reducing the disease, Barr points out, and the rate of HIV infection among D.C. residents is nearly 10 times the national average.

But a ban on funding for needle exchange is not in the long-term budget deal unveiled early Tuesday morning. "It's out," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "They [Republicans] tried to put it in and we kept it out."

A Boehner spokesman declined to comment on what happened with needle exchange. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Barr is not mollified.

"It's definitely positive that the needle exchange is going to be permitted, but it's definitely not going to satisfy our members," he said. "I think the most egregious statements coming from the president were in that Washington Post article when he told John Boehner, 'I'll give you D.C. abortions.' It highlights the fact that D.C. doesn't have representation."

Elise Foley contributed to this report.

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