D.C. Vote Advocates Jack Up Pressure

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Advocates of a D.C. voting rights bill are stepping up their lobbying in the Senate, hoping to lock up commitments from a crucial group of lawmakers to ensure that the measure passes next month.

Most Democrats back the legislation, as do several Republicans. The advocacy group DC Vote blitzed 21 Senate offices last week and found a few additional Republicans "leaning yes," said Ilir Zherka, the organization's executive director. Key senators are also trying to persuade colleagues to support the bill.

But the measure faces opposition from the White House and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who call it unconstitutional. Supporters of the bill don't yet have the 60 votes needed to break a possible filibuster, according to several of them.

And the Senate's schedule is crowded with other matters before the August recess.

"There's a lot to do -- including this -- in a limited number of weeks," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid has said he hopes for a full Senate vote soon. "Part of it depends on whether Republicans are prepared to try to stop this bill on the floor," his spokesman said. If they are, Reid is unlikely to bring up the measure unless he has the votes to overcome such opposition.

The legislation is a political compromise that would expand the House by two seats. One would go to the overwhelmingly Democratic District, and the other to the next state in line to expand its delegation, based on the U.S. Census. For the next few years, that state would be Utah, a Republican stronghold.

Democrats and their two independent allies control 50 votes in the Senate. (One additional Democrat is on sick leave). All but four of those 50 senators are solidly behind the bill, Zherka said. He did not name the uncommitted Democrats, but they are believed to include Max Baucus (Mont.) and Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.).

In addition, five Republicans have openly backed the bill, including Utah senators Orrin G. Hatch and Robert F. Bennett.

That brings the "yes" tally to at least 51, enough to approve the bill on an up-or-down vote.

But passage of legislation in the Senate is a multi-step process. First, the majority leader seeks to open consideration of a bill; then amendments may be offered; finally, senators vote on the bill itself. At each step, opponents can threaten a filibuster, or marathon debate. It can be broken only by a 60-vote supermajority.

Many Senate staffers consider it likely the D.C. vote bill will face a filibuster threat.

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