Friday, March 6, 2009

Expanding Congress; Adding a Member for Washington D.C. and Utah

It appears that I might have to update my lecture materials for my American National Government class.

Recently the U.S. Senate voted 61-34 to pass Senate Bill 160, which adds a full voting member in the United States House of Representatives for Washington D.C. and one for Utah. While Democrats have long pushed for people who live in Washington, D.C. to have congressional representation, adding a member from heavily Republican-leaning Utah was th sweetner needed to get the bill over the magic filibuster-proof 60 vote margin needed in the U.S. Senate.

An alert Indianapolis Star reader opines that the bill would appear to be afoul of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution which states: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year bythe People of the several States..." As I recall, Washington, D.C is not a state. The measure appears to be flatly unconstitutional.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cal.) instead proposes that residents of Washington, D.C. vote for their representatives by including the city in the state of Maryland. Other proposals call for reducing the size of D.C. to the government area and including the rest of the district in Maryland or Virginia.

I have never understood the notion that you should not have representation in Congress if you live in the District of Columbia. Perhaps the original intent was to isolate federal government workers from being able to vote for representatives that would protect their jobs. But it hasn't quite worked out like that. Instead of being populated by government workers, many who live in the district do not work for the federal government and are low on the economic ladder. Meanwhile many people drawing a government paycheck live outside the district, in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.

I certainly don't think D.C. should have the one representative and two members of the Senate, as if it were a state, a proposal advanced by many. However, the Rohrabacher's proposal makes sense. Certainly it makes a lot more sense than the Washington, D.C.-Utah trade off contained in Senate Bill 160, a measure that seems destined to be declared unconstitutional.


Sean Shepard said...

One of the problems I have with the D.C. House Vote issue, beyond the constitutional one, is that people voluntarily move there and live there knowing they have no representative ... because D.C. is not one of "These United States".

I think your thought that having one of the surrounding states absorb the non-governmental parts of D.C. is better makes some sense.

At the end of the day, wasn't the intent to ensure that the nation's capital was not in a position to vote benefits to itself at the expense of the rest of the country? Essentially making the states (and voters) the caretakers of D.C. just as those who work in D.C. are supposedly looking out for all of us? (hard to type that without laughing).

300,000,000 people voting to let 537 of us decide what to do with 40% of our money. Brilliant. said...

Considering the president's lack of credentials to occupy the White House, adding a constitutionally prohibited US Respresentative pales by comparison.