DC Statehood


Ryan Avent writes about the country’s abhorrent treatment of residents of the capital:

Anyway, I feel very strongly that whatever steps need to be taken to get Washington treated like its own state, in all respects, should be taken. In most instances, the District already gets this treatment, with the notable exceptions of home rule and legislative representation. And the only reason that this remains the case is because the city is overwhelmingly Democratic. Ezra says that retrocession to Maryland should be the backup plan. I disagree, because the District already has most of the institutional infrastructure of a state, and because I don’t actually think that plan is any easier logistically, than statehood. Neither DC nor Maryland wants it to happen.

What is clear is that without a much larger Democratic majority, the District will never get more than a voting House member. It’s just one of those lingering, unfixable embarrassments that pepper our political system. I just wish that more Republicans were embarrassed about denying the vote to hundreds of thousands of people who send in their federal tax payments every year. But then, I wish they were embarrassed about a lot of things.

A few points about this. To actually admit DC as a state of the union would only require a majority vote in both houses of congress. To meet the constitutional requirements, you’d need to carve out a rump “federal district” encompassing the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Mall and some of the adjacent buildings. You’d need to work out the logistics, but the logistics are not insurmountable. And the political obstacles, though serious, are basically the same as the political obstacles to universal health care or comprehensive climate change legislation. Indeed, admitting DC as a state would substantially reduce the political obstacles to universal health care or comprehensive climate change legislation. But the striking thing is not how strong Republican opposition to this idea is, it’s how tepid Democratic support for it is. You don’t hear Democratic leaders articulating this as a goal. And when the House of Representatives put it to a vote in 1993 it lost 277 to 153. Of course, even if Democrats were to support DC statehood, the GOP would still filibuster. But the filibuster could—and should—be reformed, and it’s plausible—even likely—that Democrats will pick up at least one Senate seat in the 2010 midterms. If that happens, admitting DC as a state would be both a blow for justice and also a significant means of entrenching progressive political power. It would also partially redress the structural under-representation of all urban core areas in the United States congress.