Without Further Delay

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

THE PEOPLE of the District of Columbia shouldn't have to wait another minute, let alone another month, to get the full voting representation in government that is their due as Americans. A bill to give the District a vote in the House of Representatives is pending, but for reasons that are as unclear as they are unacceptable, it may not be brought to a vote. Instead of idly watching the hours tick down in the final days of a generally useless legislative year, the 109th Congress should muster the political will to right a 200-year-old wrong.

A significant step was taken yesterday with the Utah legislature's approval of a redistricting plan that carves out an extra congressional seat for the fast-growing state. The resourceful proposal to give the District a voting seat hinges on balancing it against an additional seat for Utah, which just missed qualifying for one more legislator after the last census. The House would increase in size by two, to 437; because it's presumed that Utah voters would elect a Republican and District voters a Democrat, party politics are neutralized. Now that Utah's political leaders have agreed on the shape of a redistricting map, they may prod the Republican leadership to take action.

Some might argue that a lame-duck Congress shouldn't enact far-reaching reform. But this bill has been four painstaking years in the making. It enjoys widespread bipartisan support, and there is no organized opposition to it. Indeed, how could there be? Legal scholars of all political persuasions have testified to its soundness and, as Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said, "It's hard to make a straight-faced argument that the capital of the free world shouldn't have a vote in Congress." If President Bush would like to argue against democracy for the District, he should do so openly; otherwise he should openly support this bill. The same goes for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

That the bill got this far is a testament to Mr. Davis and his partnership with Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting delegate in the House. If the bill languishes this year, Mr. Davis has vowed to make it the first bill he introduces in the new Congress. But that carries risks. Will the Republicans who signed on this year stay committed? Will Democrats balk at the seat for Utah? New questions mean potential new delays. All the while D.C. residents continue to pay federal taxes and go off to war without a say in making policy.

That's fundamentally wrong. That's why the 109th Congress couldn't come up with a better ending than one titled "The District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act of 2006."

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