Racism on Display: Washington, D.C.’s Status in Congress

David Shuster

As our nation promotes representative democracy around the world, it is time to finally bring it to those who don’t have it here in the United States — the citizens of Washington, D.C.

As we discussed recently on Take Action News, the 618,000 residents of the District of Columbia still have no vote on the floor of the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. This means that on all the federal issues of our time — war, peace, raising taxes, cutting taxes, adding government programs, eliminating them, gun control, immigration — Washington, D.C. residents have no vote and no power.

(Shameless plug: you can subscribe to video clips from the show for free at Youtube.com/takeactionnewstv.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OSa9uzjAlA&list=UUcnNWp-tx3-FaCWV4pMFTAg&index=2[/youtube]

Furthermore, all Washington, D.C. budgets have to be approved by Congress. The lack of autonomy can be brutal. Two years ago, Congress eliminated funding for the city’s needle exchange program — a program designed by local health officials and city officials to decrease the rate of HIV-AIDS.

The disregard for Washington, D.C. is particularly shameful when you consider the latest census data. Washington, D.C. now has a greater population than two states (Wyoming and Vermont); more active duty military service members than 29 states, a larger gross domestic product than 27 states, and more tax revenue going to the federal government than 29 states.

“Taxation without representation?” Indeed. And, our founding fathers would be aghast. The British imposition of taxes and other measures — while denying American colonists any representation or voice on such matters — prompted the Revolutionary War.

So why is Washington, D.C. treated like a bastard stepchild? The key driving force is a toxic mix of politics and racism. More than half of D.C.’s residents are African-American. And regardless of the skin color of any D.C. representative or senator, those new lawmakers would likely bolster the power of progressive Democrats in each chamber.

To avoid talking about the obvious reasons D.C. is denied statehood or autonomy, most Republicans (and southern Democrats before them) have always cited the constitution. “The Constitution forbids statehood,” or so the argument goes.

No, the Constitution only requires that Congress control the District that is the Seat of the Government of the United States and not let this area exceed 10 square miles.

Article 1, Section 8: Congress shall have the power… To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular states, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.

As you can see, the constitution does not articulate a minimum size for this congressionally controlled seat of the government, only a maximum size of 10 square miles. In other words, Congress could declare the District to be the area along the mall from the Capitol building to White House and Lincoln memorial; note the residential areas outside of this land, and award Congressional representation and statehood to those citizens.

It’s a proposal D.C.’s elected Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton first introduced a few years ago and reintroduced last week. (Watch our interview with her describing the plan.) Last month, Senators Lieberman, Boxer, Murray, and Durbin introduced a similar bill in the U.S. Senate.

If Congress is unwilling to award representation and autonomy to Washington, D.C.’s 618,000 residents, lawmakers should at least honor the founding principle of our nation and remove all federal income taxes in D.C. It’s the right thing to do. And, it would match the principles espoused each day by Tea Party lawmakers.

Seriously, the lingering treatment of Washington, D.C. is a national shame. How can we urge other nations around the world to embrace democracy and representative government when we keep it from a large group of our own citizens?

As it stands, we are the only nation on earth with a representative democracy that denies representation to the inhabitants of the capital city. This isn’t something to be proud of. In fact, it’s an outrage. Most Washington, D.C. citizens, (like most Americans,) play by the rules, work hard, and pay their taxes.

As accomplished as D.C. residents are, statehood can’t be achieved alone. Congress will have to act, and perhaps only under pressure from their constituents. Click here to sign a petition asking Americans to (1) contact their members of Congress and (2) urge the lawmakers to bring D.C.’s status to a vote on the House and Senate floor.

It’s time to give Washington, D.C. residents the same rights and responsibilities we’ve given to other Americans — governmental autonomy and representation in Congress.

It’s time for D.C. statehood.

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