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Optimistic Push for D.C. Vote In House

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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lawmakers are planning a quick start in their latest effort to get a D.C. voting representative in the House, introducing bills as members of the new Congress are sworn in today.

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Supporters are optimistic that this Congress could finally be the one that passes the legislation. The Democrats picked up at least seven Senate seats in the recent election, which will improve prospects for passage in that chamber, where the measure died in 2007 after it cleared the House.

Unlike President Bush, President-elect Barack Obama favors the legislation. He was a co-sponsor of the bill in the previous Congress and is expected to sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

"I know I have the ear of the speaker and the majority leader, and I know that they are among the strongest proponents of voting rights in Congress," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city's non-voting House representative. She was referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

"I have every reason to believe they will press forward," she said.

Norton plans to introduce the legislation in the House, and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) will present it in the Senate, according to officials from their offices.

The legislation, virtually the same as the bills debated in 2007, would add two seats to the House. One would go to the heavily Democratic District, while the other would go to the next state in line to pick up a seat according to Census figures -- currently, Republican-leaning Utah.

Norton has asked for a House vote on the bill around Feb. 12, the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. She said, however, that it might not be possible to move so quickly because Congress will be tackling such major bills as the economic stimulus package.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy group, said he was "thrilled" that the lawmakers are pressing aggressively for the bill's passage.

"We believe we will have enough votes, probably more than 60 . . . to prevent a filibuster in the Senate," he said. In 2007, supporters of the bill fell three votes short of the 60 needed to end debate.

The legislation is likely to once again pass the House, where Democrats gained two dozen seats in November's election.

Lieberman called the bill "long overdue."

"The people of the District have been the direct target of a terrorist attack but they have no vote on how the federal government provides for their homeland security," he said in a statement. "Men and women of the District have fought bravely in our wars, many giving their lives in defense of our country, yet they have no vote on the serious questions of war and peace."

Opponents of the measure have argued that the Constitution reserves House seats for representatives of states.

Some Republicans fear that that passage of the bill could spur a subsequent effort to get two full D.C. senators, who probably would be Democrats.

Even if the measure passes Congress and is signed by Obama, it is almost certain to face a court challenge.


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