Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taxation without representation: D.C. still lacks a vote in Congress

By Nancy Jane Moore

A pile of receipts and forms sits in a pile on the corner of my desk, reminding me that I've got less than a month to file my federal income tax return. I'm hoping for a bit of a refund, but even if I get one, I'll end up having sent the feds a substantial pile of money.

What galls me about paying taxes, though, isn't just what galls the people in the fifty states -- tax rates that favor the rich and dump the burden on the middle class, wasteful spending on unnecessary wars, or pork barrel spending.

No, what really bugs me is that I have absolutely no say about how my money is spent: I don't have any representation in the U.S. Congress. And neither do my neighbors.

We live in Washington, D.C. -- the so-called capital of the free world. And yet we can't elect a voting member of Congress -- we have a non-voting delegate -- much less any members of the Senate.

The residents of Puerto Rico and other territories don't have voting representation, either, but they get one plus: They don't have to pay federal taxes. Those places are real colonies. They also have legitimate gripes with the US government, but they aren't the nation's capital.

Right now there's a bill pending in the House of Representatives that would elevate our non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to a voting Congresswoman. It's a compromise deal that will give Utah another member of Congress (therefore adding a likely Republican along with Democrat Norton). It will be one vote out of 437, but one is greater than zero. Even in the House, there are times when one vote matters.

Last week the bill was on its way to passage when some Republican inserted a provision that would repeal the District's strict gun control law -- yet another in a long history of slaps at our self-determination. The Democratic leadership pulled the bill rather than include that provision.

Even if a bill giving us a vote passes both houses of Congress, Bush has threatened to veto it. Opponents are wrapping themselves in the Constitution, which put the nation's capital in a federal district to keep any one of the original states from having undue influence. That's not an issue these days.

As The Washington Post points out in this wrap up piece, the real issue isn't Constitutional; it's political. Republicans are afraid that it will open the door to Senate seats for the District.

And, of course, it should. We have more than 550,000 tax-paying residents in the District of Columbia. All the states, including at least one with fewer people than live in the District, have two senators each.

Of course, the real reason the Republicans object is that they know we will elect two Democrats to the Senate -- we gave Al Gore 85 percent of our vote in 2000 and John Kerry got about 90 percent in 2004. We might even elect liberal Democrats and it is very likely that we will elect African American Democrats.

The Constitution may or may not be a barrier -- it all depends on current interpretation, since the original reason for keeping the district separate is no longer relevant. But fundamental fairness, dating back to the Boston Tea party, dictates that we who live in Washington, D.C., deserve at least the same representation as any other citizens.

We in the District are getting very, very tired of taxation without representation.


mikelicht said...

"The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of man. It does not deserve a serious refutation."

-- British Prime Minister William Pitt, to Parliament, January 14, 1766

"But I would submit to you that Washington, D.C. is also the only city in the entire country that every Senator and every Member of Congress has a vested interest in seeing that it works properly, that water works, sewer works, and no other city in America has that."

-- Representative Louie Gohmert (R, TX-01), arguing against voting representation in Congress for the citizens of Washington, DC, in the Congressional Record-House, March 22, 2007, H2845.

Mr. Gohmert claims to be our "virtual congressman," and we must allow him the opportunity. If morality cannot lead him to do the right thing, let's convince him of the impracticality of his position. Call his East Texas District offices (toll free) at 1-866-535-6302 about any DC issues. Operators are standing by!

Nancy Jane Moore said...

What a great idea -- especially since I haven't noticed all that many senators and representatives jumping up to respond to needs of the District of Columbia. Of course, we have a perfectly good mayor and city council to deal with water and sewer and things of that nature; what we want in Congress is someone to represent our interest on national matters.