Residents of the District of Columbia, who often call themselves the last bastion of "taxation without representation" in the U.S., have never been so close to gaining a vote in Congress since 1978. But hopes for passage of a D.C. voting rights law this year or next were dashed today.
A disappointed House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he has pulled a bill that was slated to come to the House floor this week to give Washington, D.C., a voting member in the House of Representatives.
The bill was scuttled by controversy over a Republican-backed provision that would have stripped the District of its strict gun control laws. Many Democrats, critical to the bill's passage, said they could no longer support it. The Republicans' provision would have overturned District laws restricting open or concealed carrying of weapons in public.
"The price was too high," Hoyer, D-Md., explained to reporters at his weekly press briefing. "I don't see the ability to move it in this session of Congress."
Supporters of full voting rights for the District in the House had said this year was the best chance to pass the measure – an opportunity some say won't come again for some time. Democrats are expected to lose seats in Congress in November's election and results of the 2010 census could further complicate the political landscape.
The District's non-voting delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who initially pressed for the bill's passage this year despite the gun amendment, said she asked Hoyer to remove the measure from the floor after being "shocked and blindsided" over the weekend by a revised version, which she said was "NRA-drafted."
"I cannot agree to these egregious changes," said Norton, a Democrat. "They make the already bad gun attachment to the D.C. voting rights bill even worse than I thought was possible."
The bill faced other obstacles: Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch threatened to lead a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The bill was supposed to give Utah, a heavily-Republican state with a growing population, an additional House seat to balance D.C.'s, but Hatch objected to a provision mandating the Utah seat be "at-large" instead of assigned to a specific part of the state. Hatch argued that decision should rest with Utah officials, not Congress.
Several members of the District of Columbia City Council also vehemently opposed the bill, despite the chance to get a vote in Congress.
"We should not trade a piece of democracy for a piece of democracy," said council member Michael A. Brown, who chairs the city's committee on statehood and self-determination. "It was a bad deal for the residents of the District of Columbia," he said of the bill's gun control provisions.
"We just had nine kids shot by an assault rifle in our city," said D.C. councilmember at large Phil Mendelson, speaking about a recent drive-by shooting in Southeast D.C. that left four dead and several wounded. "Under the gun amendment, weapons like the AK-47 would be legal…that's unacceptable."
"District residents deserve voting representation without qualification," Mendelson said.
The District of Columbia has not had representation in Congress since it was established in 1801. At the time, U.S. leaders were concerned that the nation's capital not be in any one state.