Full voting representation in Congress for residents of the District of Columbia was portrayed as a moral and civic rights issue during debate in the House yesterday on the eve of today's vote on the proposed constitutional amendment.
Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, the city's nonvoting House member, started two hours of floor debate by describing the resolution as "a moral issue. . . that cannot be quieted by half measures," such as awarding voting rights to the city in the House only, as opponents are expected to attempt to do before today's crucial vote.
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) called the idea "the largest civil right issues of the '70s." Edwards, whose Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights drafted the bill and guided it to approval by a 27-to-6 vote in the House Judiciary Committee Jan. 31, said the proposal offers a chance to "right a terrible wrong, second-class citizenship."
If the proposal which requires two-thirds approval by the House carries there today, major opposition is expected in the Senate. If both houses approve, the proposed amendment must be ratified within seven years by 38 states.
City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, who has led a nationwide lobbying effort on behalf of the amendment, said last night that today's vote "is going to be close." A similar measure requirement in 1976.
Most of the opposition is expected to come in the form of weakening amendments, especially on planned by Rep. M. Caldwell Bustler (R-Va.) that would eliminate the provisions for Senate representation.
Butler, who opposed any representation for city residents the last time the question came before the House, said yesterday that he has altered his view after examining the degree to which Congress is involved in the city's affairs.
"The present system simply is not just," Butler said, adding that "voting representation in the House is the appropriate place to draw the line." He said the House would be "wasting time" passing the proposal in its present form because it is "virtually impossible" that it would carry in the Senate and furthermore "inconceivable" that 38 state legislatures would "vote to approve two new urban senators."
Supporters, however, rejected the half-a-loaf compromise, preferring to put the idea to a vote as a moral issue, with the world watching an internal test of President Carter's human rights policy.
"We preach voting rights around the world and we mean it. . . But are we to say to the world. . . that ours is a representative democracy for all Americans, except for the citizens of our nation's capital?" Fauntroy said.
Fauntroy noted that, as the city's nonvoting delegate, "I represent more taxpaying Americans than any single member of this House -- and more people than the number who elect 20 senators." He said city residents pay $1 billion dollars a year in federal taxes, a per capital rate of $77, that is higher than the rate in all but seven states. The city's population is slightly less than 700,000.
Members should vote not on the basis of taxation without representation, Fauntroy said, but because "it is just and fair and right -- Nothing more is needed, nothing less will satisfy the dictates of conscience."
Paraphrasing an English Methodist minister, Fauntroy, a Baptist minister, concluded by asking House members to approve the resolution "not because it is safe, or politic or popular but because conscience dictates that it is right."
Fauntroy's impassioned plea was applauded by many of about 30 members on the floor and by some of more than 100 city residents who watched from the gallery.
Even the one of most outspoken opponents of the proposal, Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (H-Calif.) offered to give Fauntroy "voting rights." But Moorhead said the measure "fashions a back-door state" out of the city. "It goes too far, and violates the rights of so many others," he said.
Rep. Delbert L. Latta (R-Ohio) accused the city of not seeking statehood because "it doesn't want to give up the goodies" that it gets as the nation's capital.
Latta said that in 1977 the city received benefits totaling $749.7 million from the federal government because of its unique status. The proposal would allow the city to "reap all of the benefits of statehood but not all of the responsibilities," Latta said.
Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.) said statehood is "a specious argument," one of several "phony issues" that will be raised by opponents. He said the House has "an obligation to take it to the people" via the ratification process.
"Pass it. Pass it. The acid test will be the decency of the American people," Mitchell said.
"The world will be watching for an internal manifestation of that morality we demand of others," Mitchell said.
The proposal won bipartisan support, with Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ill.) reminding fellow Republicans that the issue was part of the 1976 GOP platform. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) said approval is "a simple matter of justice."
Rep. Charles E. Wiggins (R-Calif.) said he prefers retrocession of populated areas of the city to Maryland and establishment of the remainder as an area "essential to the operation of the Federal government." He criticized the proposal for careless draftsmanship and suggested that its wording might be unconstitutional.
Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.) said he disagrees with those who contend that enlarging the Senate to 102 members would "dilute" its power. Extending democracy, Harris said, would do "nothing but strengthen it."