Give D.C. a Vote

Posted May 3, 2005 at 5:20pm

If the District of Columbia were a state, it would rank third in per-capita income taxes paid to the federal government. In America’s wars of the 20th century, the District suffered more casualties than several states did. So there is no excuse for the nation to continue to leave D.C. residents without any representation in Congress.

Ideally, the District should be represented in both the House and Senate, as called for in Democratic-backed legislation introduced by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). Unfortunately, that bill has zero chance of passing and being signed into law. So, as an interim measure — and we acknowledge it may be a long interim — we urge leaders of both parties to get behind the bill just reintroduced by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to give D.C. a vote in the House. The measure would temporarily enlarge the House by two, adding one seat for the District and one for heavily Republican Utah — a constructive nod toward the partisan balance that seems to be a prerequisite for passage.

The Constitution gives Congress all the power it needs to give D.C. a vote in Congress. In fact, Congress has the power “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the capital district. Legal scholars, including conservatives such as former federal appeals court judge Kenneth Starr, agree that the Constitution permits Congress free rein on the issue of representation. While statehood would require a constitutional amendment, voting representation would not.

We’re glad to see that the idea of giving the District representation has attracted the support of Republicans. Davis’ measure has 11 GOP co-sponsors, including two from Utah. Two other bills, both of which would give D.C. residents voting rights in Maryland by different means, are also sponsored by Republicans, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Ralph Regula (Ohio).

Unfortunately, the GOP sponsors have not been able to interest their party’s leaders in their measures. In fact, when Republicans took control of the House in 1995, one of their first acts was to reverse a Democratic rule allowing the D.C. Delegate to vote in the Committee of the Whole House when that vote was not decisive in the outcome. We hope that Davis, the influential chairman of the Government Reform Committee and former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, can convince his leaders of the merits of this cause.

Some Democrats have been opposed, both because they support full representation and because they fear that Utah’s GOP-dominated Legislature might eliminate the state’s lone Democratic district in the process of a mid-decade reapportionment. The state’s GOP Members should pledge not to pursue such a course.

There’s not much that Republicans and Democrats are doing together in this Congress. One thing that they can do, however, is expand democracy right in their own backyard.