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House Debates Expansion, D.C. Voting Rights On the Table

April 19, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The bill to give Washington D.C. residents their first-ever voting member of the House of Representatives and Utah an additional Representative, has been revamped and is back on the House floor today.

When it came to the floor last month, it stalled because a group of Republican representatives attempted to attach a provision to it that would have lifted D.C.’s ban on semiautomatic weapons. It was originally numbered H.R.1433, but, after being being officially postponed on the House floor, a new version has arrived, numbered H.R.1905.

A tax-raising provision that would have been used to pay for the costs of D.C. elections has been removed in the new bill because it broadened its “thread of germaneness,” allowing the gun rights provision to be proposed. Since this tax provision dealt specifically with the District and not just the House of Representatives like the main part of the bill, it opened it up for other District-related provisions to be added to it. Without this provision, the House will have to attempt to pass another bill in order to satisfy the pay-as-you-go spending rule that they adopted in January, but it won’t be left open to gun-rights amendments.

Whether or not this bill is approved by the House today, it is going to meet strong opposition in the Senate and White House. Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) and President Bush, who has threatened to veto the bill, object, citing this bill’s unconstitutionality. McConnell argues that the constitution would need to be amended before giving a congressman to Washington D.C. However, the Washington delegate to the House and the bill’s sponsor, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D,DC) argues that the Constitution grants Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever”" over the federal capital and thus does, in fact, give them the power to give a congressman to the District.

But, as you may have guessed, there is more to the partisan warfare over this bill than constitutional objections. The majority of Washington D.C residents are Democrats, thus the bill would essentially guarantee an increase in Democratic representation in the House. But, as Rob Getzschman pointed out in his op-ed yesterday, the bill also arouses a moral issue that is essential to democracy:

>If spreading democracy is the imperative of the last remaining superpower, then the mandate for the US is to honor D.C. vot­ing rights. To tolerate the status quo smacks of hypocrisy to foreign governments. As a senior Hong Kong official told Rep. Tom Davis® of Virginia in 2005, “Give your nation’s capital the right to vote and then come talk to us about democracy in Hong Kong.”
>Sadly, partisan maneuvering belies the political nature of the D.C. voting rights issue. Yeas and nays fall along party lines due to the district’s Democratic majority, and opponents see the enfranchisement of 580,000 US citizens as a “power grab” for the Democrats. The issue, however, is emphatically nonpartisan. Voting rights are rooted in the Constitution, not the partisan makeup of a region.

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  • Anonymous 04/20/2007 1:12pm

    D.C. residents absolutely deserve a vote in Congress.

    FEDERAL TAXES: Like the rest of Americans, and unlike other territories like Guam, D.C. residents pay FEDERAL taxes. They actually pay the highest amount in taxes per capita in the nation. Can you imagine paying federal taxes, but having no vote on how your tax dollars are spent???

    SOLDIERS IN WAR: Like the rest of Americans, and unlike other territories, D.C. residents have also fought and died in every American war stretching back to the War of 1812. Currently, they have no vote on whether or not their residents get sent to war. Think of screwed up that is alone.

    DEMOCRACY: D.C. is the only capital of a democracy IN THE WORLD that is not allowed a vote in their national legislature. Even the people living in Baghdad can vote for a federal representative. In this case, Iraqis have more democracy than America.

    CONSTITUTIONAL: The Constitution gives the Congress the power to do whatever it wants with the District. It’s called the “District Clause,” Article 1, Section 8: “To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District.” In 1800, Congress took away voting rights from D.C. using that power. That same power gives them the right to give it back. Conservative thinkers like Kenneth Starr (Clinton impeachment) and Viet Dihn (author of the Patriot Act) have come to the same conclusion. It is fair and will stand. A Constitutional amendment is unnecessary.

    NO NET GAIN: Since Utah will also get an extra vote in Congress, there is no net gain for either party. This follows the tradition of introducing states like traditionally Democratic Hawaii and traditionally Republican Alaska at the same time.

    FOREIGN POLICY: D.C.’s denial of voting representation has actually impacted America’s ability to carry out foreign policy. Rogue nations with poor human rights records argue that America cannot claim total innocence as they deny voting rights to the residents of their nation’s capital city. This has been an effective tool for countries with horrible records to continue their abuses.

    I realize that it is a lot to swallow. But truly, it is time to give the residents of America’s capital the right to vote in Congress.

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