Today, the Senate began debate on S. 160, a bill to “provide the District of Columbia a voting seat and the State of Utah an additional seat in the House of Representatives.” DCist reports that the chamber will likely hold the cloture vote tomorrow.
In a new piece in the National Review, former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky tries to make the case that D.C. residents don’t deserve full federal voting rights. Spakovsky, of course, has a history of vote suppression allegations while serving in the Bush administration.
In his piece, Spakovsky goes beyond the traditional constitutionality claim made by opponents, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). He claims that D.C. residents don’t need a full voting member in Congress because every federal lawmaker is supposedly looking out for their best interests. Toward the end, he also claims that this bill — supported by Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — is nothing more than a “raw grab at political power” by Democrats.
ThinkProgress contacted DC Vote Communications Director Jaline Quinto, who offered her response to Spakovsky’s claims:
SPAKOVSKY: And while statehood supporters cite the famous American rallying cry “no taxation without representation,” that is a false analogy. The entire Congress represents the interests of the District, because every single member of Congress works in the District.
QUINTO: Members of Congress are accountable to the people who elect them – their constituents. DC residents have no voting member in Congress and therefore no voting members who are beholden to them. The assumption that all members of Congress act in the best interests of DC residents simply because they work in the District is vastly untrue. In many cases, it’s been quite the opposite. Congress routinely tries to overturn laws that DC residents and the District government have tried to implement. When DC attempted to use its own tax revenue to combat the rising HIV infection rate through a needle-exchange program, Congress stepped in to stop it even though DC residents supported the measure. That’s just one example of many.
SPAKOVSKY: Every year, Congress appropriates millions of dollars for the District. D.C. did so well under the stimulus bill that Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting representative, crowed on her website that “Norton’s stimulus package puts D.C. ahead of seven states.” The District has a smaller population than 49 of the states (Wyoming being the exception).
QUINTO: District residents pay the second highest per capita federal income taxes in the nation, only Connecticut pays more. DC residents pay their taxes, fight and die in wars and serve on federal juries. On top of this, the District loses out on millions of dollars in critical revenue each year by its inability to levy taxes on federal properties. The bottom line is that more than half a million tax-paying Americans are being denied their right to voting representation in Congress.
SPAKOVSKY: It will establish a new, permanently Democratic seat in the House of Representatives. The bill attempts to balance that by adding a second seat as well (bringing the total number of representatives to 437), and giving that seat to Utah. But unlike D.C.’s seat, Utah’s extra seat is guaranteed only until next year’s Census — after which each state will be assigned seats in proportion to its population. The extra seat will almost surely be transferred to a Democratic state like California or New York.
QUINTO: The bill does permanently increase the size of the House by two seats – the first increase in nearly 100 years. One seat is permanently for the District of Columbia and the other goes to the next state in line based on census. At this time, that additional seat is granted to Utah based on population. The general assumption made is that the seat will remain with Utah even after the 2012 census but only the population count will tell. The issue of Democrat or Republican though, is besides the point. All Americans deserve a vote in Congress – regardless of their party affiliation.