No Vote, but D.C. May Get Statues in the Capitol

Posted July 14, 2010 at 6:27pm

In the past few months, the District of Columbia came closer than ever to gaining a voting seat in the House, only to see the opportunity fade away when conservatives attached a controversial gun rights amendment to the voting rights act.

But D.C. residents may soon get a different kind of representation in Congress. On Wednesday, the House Administration Committee passed a bill that would allow the city to place two statues in the Capitol — an honor currently only bestowed on states. The committee also passed a bill allowing American territories a single statue each.

But the vote was not without its political overtones. While D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) emphasized that the bill was strictly about statues, House Administration ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) worried that voting rights advocates would see it as evidence that Congress was moving toward giving D.C. a House vote.

“I do object to using this process as some suggestion that the District of Columbia be given a vote in the House of Representatives,” he said before introducing an amendment to combine the D.C. bill and the territories bill.

Giving D.C. and the territories each a single statue “removes any hesitation” from Members who are worried about giving “unintended support” to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, he said. But the amendment failed, and the D.C. bill passed along party lines.

“In many ways, it’s surprising the length to which the Republicans will go to diminish the taxpaying status of the District of Columbia,” Norton said after the hearing. “It’s quite outrageous to drag the D.C. voting rights into this debate.”

But Norton — who has introduced a similar bill for years without success — did remove any mention of states in the current bill. Past bills provided for statues to be placed in the Capitol “in the same manner as statues honoring citizens of the States are placed in Statuary Hall.” This year, that phrase is omitted.

On Wednesday, Norton denied any political reasoning behind the change. The bill is just a more straightforward, “simpler” version, she said. She also expressed optimism that it would finally pass Congress, despite the failure of the voting rights act.

The House Administration Committee also unanimously passed two resolutions Wednesday in response to Member feedback: one that loosens new standards for reimbursement vouchers and another that allows Members to buy online advertisements with their office budget.

In recent months, Members and staffers have complained about stringent voucher standards that result in delays for reimbursement for such day-to-day costs as office supplies and travel.

The resolutions passed Wednesday are meant to “ease the administrative burden on Member offices,” said Kyle Anderson, spokesman for Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.). The changes include allowing alternatives to original receipts, “additional clarification” on mileage reimbursement logs and advanced payment for some utility bills.

The committee also passed a resolution that allows Members to buy online advertisements ­— such as those through Google or Facebook — for official purposes, such as notices of town hall meetings or office contact information. Franking rules previously have had no guidance on such issues.