D.C. Bill to Get Another Chance Following Recess

Posted March 27, 2007 at 6:44pm

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the bill that would grant the District of Columbia a full seat in the House would be back on the House floor for a vote during the first week after recess.

Supporters of the bill had pushed for it to be brought back this week. The House will break for two weeks after business ends Friday, and supporters have expressed concern that the measure will get lost in the legislative shuffle.

“This week, as you can see, is a very full week,” Hoyer said at his weekly pen-and-pad press conference. “But I intend to have the D.C. bill back on the floor the first week that we return and I expect it to be in a position where we will … not have the procedural problems that we confronted.”

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the D.C. Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act would give D.C. a full vote while also giving an at-large seat to Utah, which just missed getting a vote after the 2000 Census.

Opponents of the measure argue it is unconstitutional to give a non-state a vote in Congress. Many also take issue with granting Utah an at-large seat, which they say essentially would give Utah residents two Representatives while other Americans have just one.

After hours of debate on the House floor Thursday, Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) put forth a motion to recommit that would repeal the city’s longtime ban on handguns.

Democrats immediately pulled the bill from the floor. Had the legislation moved forward with such an attachment, dozens of Democrats from conservative districts would have been forced to address gun rights, potentially killing the bill.

“It was not the motion to recommit substance that was the issue,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “We would have dealt with that. What we could not deal with was the motion to recommit to report back promptly. … In other words, it goes immediately back on the floor and we would have voted on it.”

Hoyer did not discuss a specific method of bringing the bill back to the floor, but he did mention that Democrats would need to address “pay-as-you-go” language in the bill that would offset spending for Utah’s new seat.

“Over the next 15 days I’m going to be working very hard and my staff is going to be working hard and the Speaker is going to be working hard to assure that we pass that bill in a way that is acceptable to the majority members of the House and the Senate,” Hoyer said.

The House is scheduled to return from recess on April 16. Norton praised Hoyer for working to bring the bill back to the floor during such a hectic week.

“Republican procedural game-playing cannot defeat a principled and bipartisan voting rights bill for 650,000 Americans,” Norton said. “We don’t get mad — but we do get even.”

D.C. voting rights advocates continued to push Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring the bill to the floor this week.

“Retreat this week will be seen by many of our supporters as a significant setback,” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka wrote in a letter sent to the pair Tuesday.

But even if the bill passes the House, it remains unclear if it even would be brought up in the Senate. On top of that, White House advisers have said they would urge President Bush to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), whose district borders D.C., said Monday a veto of a bill granting democratic representation to 650,000 U.S. citizens would not sit right with the American people.

“I think the symbolism of that would be terrible,” Van Hollen said.