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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. votĀ­ing 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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