Government Reform Approves Bill to Give House Vote to D.C.
The quest to grant the District of Columbia a vote in the House took a step forward Tuesday as the House Oversight and Government Reform committee approved a measure that would give D.C. full Congressional representation while also giving an at-large seat to Utah.
In a 24-5 vote, the committee moved to pass the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007 (H.R. 1433), a bipartisan bill sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C) and Oversight ranking member Tom Davis (R-Va.). The measure, a compromise designed to approve D.C. voting rights without upsetting the partisan balance in Congress, grants a vote for strongly Democratic D.C. and a new seat to largely Republican Utah, which just missed gaining another seat after the 2000 Census.
The bill now moves to the Judiciary Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday and a markup on Thursday.
Passage was a bipartisan affair, with six Republicans voting in favor of the bill and many on the panel praising the compromise nature of the measure. But a few lawmakers opposed the bill at the hearing, led by Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).
McHenry, calling the bill unconstitutional, introduced two amendments to the measure, both of which were rejected as non-germane by Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
McHenry’s first amendment would have retroceeded, or given back, most of the District to Maryland. The second would have required a constitutional amendment granting the Congress the right to give D.C. representation to be passed before the bill itself could go into effect.
Westmoreland also introduced two amendments. The first, passed by the committee on a voice vote, added to the measure language saying that the bill is intended to give the District representation only in the House, not the Senate.
The second, which failed in a 22-4 vote, would have required a partisan balance for the two new votes for the legislation to go into effect.
Both McHenry and Westmoreland said they are concerned that Congress is overstepping its power with the bill by granting representation to a non-state.
“They did not make [D.C.] a state,” Westmoreland said of the nation’s founders. “Therefore, they didn’t give them a vote.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who signed on as a cosponsor of the measure, introduced an amendment that added some historical context to the bill’s language, highlighting efforts during the nation’s earliest days to give District residents Congressional representation. That amendment also passed on voice vote.
Much of the early part of the hearing was spent on debating the bill’s constitutionality, something that has been raised as a potential obstacle in recent weeks by experts on Congress.
Davis spent his entire opening statement outlining the history of D.C.’s fight for representation. He pointed to the Residence Act of 1790, which granted the right to vote for those living in the District, as well as the District Clause of the Constitution, which he argued grants Congress the right to treat the District as a state.
“This problem affects the very reputation of our entire nation,” Davis said. “Foreign visitors I meet here and overseas comment with puzzlement on the lack of voting representation in the nation’s capital. … Our advice to others loses credibility when we refuse to solve this problem at home.”
In her opening statement, Norton echoed Davis’ sentiments.
“Once the nation’s capital was established, the framers believed that Congress would follow through on the promise of our Revolution,” she said. “Now, 110 Congresses later, may their will be done.”
Recorded Votes — HR 1433
On approving the bill.
Tally: 24 Yes, 5 No, 11 Not Voting
Y Van Hollen
To uphold the chairman’s decision to rule as non-germane an amendment on retroceding the District to Maryland.
Passed, Tally: 17 yes, 5 no,
Second Amendment, on requiring partisan balance for the two seats.
Tally 4 yes, 22, no
N Holmes Norton
N Van Hollen