A vote in Congress for Washington D.C.?
Posted by sanityinjection on February 25, 2009
If you have ever seen a license plate on a car from Washington, D.C., you know the motto it bears: “Taxation Without Representation”. The license plates were changed several years ago to bear that famous phrase as a political shot across the bow to Congress to resolve the District’s unusual situation.
Simply summarized, all American residents live either in states or territories. If you live in a state, you pay federal taxes and you are represented in Congress by a Congressman and two Senators. Your state casts electoral votes that help determine the outcome of a Presidential election. If you live in a territory such as Guam, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands, you do not have to pay federal taxes, and you are not represented in Congress. You may vote in a Presidential primary, but your territory gets zero electoral votes in the general presidential election.
However, the federal District of Columbia differs from both. The Constitution gives Congress full authority of the District’s affairs, although for local government, the city of Washington has an elected Mayor like any other city. Under laws passed by Congress, DC residents do pay federal income taxes and do get 3 electoral votes in the Presidential election. DC has no Senators, but does have a delegate to Congress, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton. Ms. Norton may speak during debate and may cast votes on the committees she serves on, but does not have a vote on the floor of the House. Hence, DC residents can accurately claim that they are taxed by the federal government without being represented in it.
There have been various suggestions to resolve this situation. One solution would be to make DC its own state like any other state. Another solution would be to “retrocede” all the residential areas of DC back to the State of Maryland. For political reasons, Democrats tend to favor the first solution and Republicans the second.
A third possibility is now coming before the Senate for debate. The proposed bill would convert DC’s Congressional “delegate” into a full voting member of Congress, while also adding an extra seat in Congress for Utah (preserving the existing Republican-Democrat ratio.) So the House would have 437 members instead of 435. This would also raise the number of electoral votes from 538 to 539, eliminating any possibility of a tie.
The problem with this solution is that it may be unconstitutional. The Constitution says that Congressmen shall be elected by the people of the states, not territories. If DC gets to elect a Congressman, other US territories may demand the same privilege. Others fear that having achieved a Congressman, DC will next demand two Senators as well.
One other possibility would be to exempt DC residents from federal taxes. But this would be a political nightmare because most Congressmen and Senators maintain a residence in DC and would not want to be accused of trying to exempt themselves from the taxes they vote to impose.
You can read more about the proposed bill here: