By Paul Barton
WASHINGTON – Passage of legislation that would give the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress already has the support of many in the Arkansas congressional delegation, their offices indicated Tuesday.
The bill passed a key procedural hurdle in the Senate Tuesday morning and for the first time will reach the floor of that chamber. Lively debate is expected both there and in the House over the issue over the next week.
Supporters of giving D.C. a voting member have long argued it is unfair for the city’s approximately 600,000 residents to be required to pay federal taxes yet have no voting representation on Capitol Hill. The fact that the capital has a large black population has has added to the civil rights’ fervor surrounding the issue.
“Taxation Without Representation,” continues to be a slogan on district license plates, although former President George W. Bush refused to allow such wording on his presidential motorcade.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton represents the city in House committee votes but is not allowed a vote once matters reach the floor. She has no counterpart in the Senate.
With Democrats now in control of both chambers – and President Obama supporting the idea as well - such a measure is given its best chance of passage ever. Obama co-sponsored such legislation while serving as a senator from Illinois in 2007.
Norton, in alliance with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman Connecticut, among others, is backing a bill that would add two new seats to the House – one to Democratic-leaning D.C. and a second to Republican-leaning Utah. Utah came within a whisker of qualifying for an additional House seat after the 2000 census.
In the past, advocates have argued for making the District of Columbia a state, a distinction that made passage in the Congress more difficult. Opponents argued D.C. could not be made a state without a change in the Constitution. Republicans also did not want to see a Democratic-voting city given seats in Congress.
Even now, many question whether D.C. can be given voting rights in the House without a constitutional amendment.
According to one of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s briefs on the issue, several of the founding founders felt mere proximity to the Capitol would give D.C. residents all the input into matters of national policy they would need. The district became the national capital in 1800, out of land ceded by Maryland and Virginia.
Spokesmen for Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both Democrats, as well as Democratic Reps. Vic Snyder and Mike Ross, all said Tuesday they would support such Holmes-Hatch-Lieberman bill.
Rep. Marion Berry, also a Democrat, could not be reached for comment.
Snyder, capturing the sentiments of many Democrats, said in a statement: “The people of the District of Columbia deserve representation. The bipartisan plan worked out by members of both parties achieves that result, and I will support it if it comes to a vote.”
“I support the DC Voting Rights Act because I believe that if a U.S. Citizen pays federal taxes or can be called to serve in our Armed Forces, he or she deserves representation in the United States Congress,” said Ross in a statement. “The compromise passed in the Senate today is one that is sensible and long overdue to the almost 600,000 residents of our nation’s capital.”
The office of Rep. John Boozman, the lone Republican in the delegation, said Tuesday he has opposed such legislation in the past and would continue to do so.