'Shameful, Sad and Worse'

Friday, December 8, 2006

DON'T BELIEVE for a second the excuse that a lack of time doomed the chances for legislation giving voting rights in the House of Representatives to the District of Columbia. Or that the decision was put off because of worries that a D.C. voting seat would not pass constitutional muster. At this point, the only plausible explanation for the demise of the bill is that Republican leaders in Congress and the White House oppose democracy for anyone who happens to live in the nation's capital.

President Bush sat on his hands as House GOP leaders spurned a valiant effort by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) to get a floor vote on the issue. Never mind four years of careful negotiation; never mind broad bipartisan support. Never mind, for that matter, that it is only fair to give all citizens, no matter their addresses, a say in their government. "Shameful, sad and worse" is the way former Republican congressman Jack Kemp, a longtime advocate of D.C. voting rights, characterized the bill's death at the hands of his party.

Republican leaders in Utah, believing they had an understanding with their national counterparts, had rushed to hold a special session to adopt a congressional map carving out a new seat for Utah that was key to the bill. The beauty of the compromise crafted by Mr. Davis and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's Democratic nonvoting delegate to the House, was that party politics was taken out of the equation, as two new seats would have been added to Congress -- one for the mostly Democratic District and one for predominantly Republican Utah.

The people of the District will get another chance in January when Congress convenes under Democratic control. Mr. Davis has promised that the bill will be reintroduced. Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and majority whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) should commit to an early vote; there's no need for more hearings. They should make clear that they won't countenance any talk of stripping Utah of its seat, which would kill the deal.

D.C. citizens pay federal taxes. The District's young men and women go off to the Middle East to fight for a democracy they are denied at home. Republican leaders blew a perfect opportunity to remedy this disenfranchisement. Many Americans, and not just those in the District, will be watching to see whether the next Congress can do better.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company