How to Get More Democrats in House than Constitution Allows

GRORGE F. WILL

December 17, 1992|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON FTC — Washington. -- No wide-awake American will be startled by redundant evidence that power corrupts.

Still, there is something notably brassy about what Speaker Tom Foley and his flock of lock-step House Democrats -- another herd of independent minds -- have decided to do regarding the five delegates to the House of Representatives from Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Most Americans have better things to do than monitor decisions of the House Democratic caucus, so most Americans do not know that their representation in the House is soon to be diluted.

Democrats have decided to use their control of the House to give those five delegates -- all Democrats, of course -- the right to vote on the floor when the House is functioning as a ''committee of the whole,'' in which mode most significant decisions are taken.

Pending an appeal to the Supreme Court, the Constitution is a mere parchment barrier to such majoritarian abuse. Article I, Section Two uses the word "state" seven times in referring to the only entity from which members of the House may be chosen. But now House Democrats have decided they can use control of House rules to confer virtually full voting privileges on those five delegates.

But just as Democrats have suddenly decided, contrary to their previous position, that statehood can be conferred on the District of Columbia by a mere statute rather than a constitutional amendment (of the sort that failed to win ratification in the 1980s), now House Democrats have decided they can use control of House rules to confer virtually full voting privileges on those five delegates.

Welcome to the 1990s, a "Decade of Greed" in the Democrats' style. There is greed for power as well as money, and evidently an 82-seat advantage in the House is not enough for the Democrats.

Roll Call is the feisty newspaper that covers Congress and can be called, somewhat oxymoronically, the conscience of Capitol Hill. It knows abuse of power when it sees it and sees it in the Democrats' ''outrageous behavior'' and ''power grab'' regarding the delegates.

Roll Call notes that in November, Democrats lost 10 House seats but in December they decided to seize half that number of new seats without consulting any voters other than themselves in their caucus.

Henceforth, in the committee of the whole -- which as Roll Call says ''is where the important stuff gets done, except the final passage of a bill'' -- the 47,000 people of American Samoa who do not pay income taxes, will have as much say as 800,000 Montanans who do about raising taxes and spending revenues.

Someone should explain to Samoans and Democrats the principle, ''No representation without taxation.'' The average congressional district has more than 500,000 residents. The U.S. Virgin Islands have 102,000; Guam has 133,000. Democrats suddenly have a relaxed attitude about the hitherto sacred ''one man, one vote'' rule.

Roll Call, unable to contain its sarcasm (and unable to stop giving Democrats ideas for more mischief), says Puerto Rico, with 3.5 million residents and just one delegate, is getting gypped:

''If Democrats became truly creative, they could divide Puerto Rico up into seven delegate districts, giving each a vote,'' or give a delegate to each of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, or to the four quadrants of the District of Columbia.

The Congressional Research Service was asked by its employers to examine the constitutionality of the sort of decision the Democratic caucus has vowed to take when Congress convenes. The CRS came up with a remarkably mushy analysis affirming the propriety of its employers' desire.

CRS does so in language that would be laughable were the Constitution not being trashed. The analysis concludes with this tortured locution:

'' . . . allowing a delegate to vote in the Committee of the Whole is apparently consistent with present Congressional interpretation of its constitutional authority.''

That is: Doing what the Democratic majority is determined to do is ''apparently'' compatible with what the Democratic majority says it has authority to do.

For perspective on the arrogance and tendentiousness of today's rulers of Congress, consider a change from 22 years ago.

On Sept. 15, 1970, the House was debating a change in its rules that would allow the resident commissioner to the United States from Puerto Rico to serve on standing committees ''in the same manner as Members of the House and shall possess in such committees the same powers and privileges as the other Members.''

A young congressman then in his third term said he supported that measure, even though ''we clearly cannot give him a vote in the House.''

Committee service, said this congressman, is one thing, and a much lesser thing, than voting on the House floor. Committees are mere creatures of the House, not of the Constitution, and ''can be extinguished at will and created at will,'' without even the concurrence of the Senate.

Furthermore, said this congressman, service on committees involves only ''preliminary advisory votes.'' Therefore such service does not involve a constitutional issue, as would votes cast in the committee of the whole or the full House.

And said this same congressman, ''It is very clear, as the resident commissioner has said, that a constitutional amendment would be required to give the resident commissioner a vote in the committee of the whole of the full House.''

Thus spoke Tom Foley, before unbridled power made him more flexible and casual about his convictions concerning the Constitution.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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