Senate Denies D.C. Voting Rights

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D.C. delegates say they're inching closer to a vote in Congress. Currently Washington, D.C. has a non-voting congressional delegate.

A slogan from the Revolutionary War is alive and well in the nation's capital.

The license plates here in Washington read: "Taxation Without Representation."

Today's Senate vote that would have given DC residents their first ever member of Congress did nothing to change it. At 2:52 this afternoon, Senators failed to reach the 60 votes needed to proceed to a vote on the DC voting rights bill. It failed 57-42.

Washington residents do in fact pay taxes, but they don't have anyone in Congress deciding what the federal government does with their money.

Even as the U.S. government wages war in the Middle East to spread democracy, Washingtonians today -- 222 years to the day after the Constitution was ratified -- are not represented in Congress.

No Vote in the Nation's Capital

It is a long-standing and bitter irony for residents here: The people who make all the laws might live and work in Washington, D.C., but the people who live in Washington, D.C. don't get to pick who makes the laws.

They did not get to vote for president until 1961 when the 23rd Amendment was ratified.

It is an irony not lost on lawmakers from small states.

"The District of Columbia has roughly the same number of people as Vermont," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the Senate floor Monday. "And we have had the right to vote for 200 years."

Partisan Politics

At this point, it's as much a partisan issue as anything else.

The District of Columbia is overwhelmingly populated with registered Democrats, and their elected representative would almost certainly be Democrats. It is in Republicans' best interests to block any plan to give D.C. residents a vote in Congress.

Nevertheless, there plan that had been floating through Congress would have given Washingtonians a seat in the House of Representatives provided the move is offset with the addition of an extra seat in reliably Republican Utah.

Even if the bill had passed, President Bush has threatened to veto it.

Bill supporters are accusing those insisting on a procedural -- or cloture -- vote of unfairly blocking the legislation. And they characterize the D.C. voting bill as a civil rights bill, since Washington's population is majority African-American.

There is Republican support for the measure.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a conservative Republican, is a backer of the bill. And a bipartisan majority passed the bill out of the House of Representatives 241-177 in April.

A Constitutional Question

But others point out that it would be unconstitutional for D.C. residents to vote. The District of Columbia, they say, would have to be made a state for the move to be legal.

"My opposition to this bill rests upon a single all-important fact," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "It is clearly unambiguously unconstitutional. It contravenes what the framers wrote, what they intended, what the courts have always held and the way Congress has always acted in the past. And to vote if it would violate our oath of office in which we duly swear to support and defend the Constitution."

After all, it says right there in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution: "Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes over such district as may by session of particular states and the acceptance of Congress become the seat of government of the United States and to exercise like authority over all places riched by the consent of the legislature."

D.C. can't be a state because the framers didn't want it to be. They wanted it independent. And only states get a vote in Congress.

It's a Catch-22 for the taxpayers in the District of Columbia.

But, as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., said in a speech singing the praises of the Constitution:

"The Constitution is a living, breathing, document. Still, it is as full of passion, patriotism, jealously and intrigue after 220 years as the star of any long-running soap opera."