WASHINGTON -- A House panel has approved a measure that would grant statehood to the District of Columbia.
Seconds after the 7-4 vote yesterday by the District of Columbia Committee, most of the people in a standing-room-only crowd burst into applause.
During testimony on the measure, most of the crowd booed remarks made by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a committee member and strong opponent of D.C. statehood. They gave the bill's sponsor, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's delegate to Congress, a standing ovation.
The audience's emotionally charged reactions reflected the partisan nature of the bill, which has pitted the seven Democrats on the panel against the four Republicans. The panel approved statehood legislation in 1987, but it never reached the House floor.
Republicans base their opposition largely on constitutional grounds, while Democrats contend that it is the only way for District residents to gain representation in Congress.
"Where no definitive constitutional answer is available, Congress must err on the side of democracy," Mrs. Norton said. "No harm can be done by granting statehood. Rank, palpable injustice will be done by denying it."
Under the measure, the District would gain two Senate seats and one member of the House. Currently, the District has one delegate and two shadow senators, one of whom is Rev. Jesse Jackson. The delegate can vote in committee, but not on the floor of House, and the senators have no voting privileges at all.
Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., the ranking Republican on the committee, sought to dispel what he called an "unfair and poisonous misrepresentation" that Republicans oppose D.C. statehood for the "sole reason of denying the addition of two new members to the U.S. Senate who would certainly be affiliated with the Democratic Party."
Mr. Bliley also opposed a provision of the bill that would provide that the annual federal payment currently given to the District be given to the state of New Columbia.
He said there was "no justification for D.C. to receive federal payments no other states receive."
Ms. Rohrabacher also objected to this provision, saying "to suggest that we should continue the federal payment after statehood is unconstitutional."
President Bush has promised to veto any D.C. statehood legislation, but that hasn't deterred supporters of the measure.