Doing right by the district

September 18, 2007

Residents of the District of Columbia are inching closer to full voting representation in Congress. An important procedural vote to cut off potentially endless debate in the Senate is up for consideration today, and it deserves to pass.

There should be no more excuses for denying the population of Washington - which is close in numbers to Baltimore's - a fundamental measure of democracy.

The idea of giving Washington's delegate unrestricted voting rights has long been resisted by Republicans. The current delegate in the House of Representatives, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, can vote in committee but not on the House floor.

A bill that would expand the House from 435 to 437 members, pairing a full voting member from the district (likely a Democrat) with a new seat for predominantly Republican Utah, passed the House in April by a lopsided vote of 241-177.

But Republicans continue to question the constitutionality of giving representation to the District of Columbia, which is not a state. Last week, Republican Sen. Robert F. Bennett of Utah, who had said previously that he would vote for the bill, offered more conditional support.

However, his colleague Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, also a Utah Republican, remains a staunch defender of the compromise. Mr. Hatch's position should hold more sway with fellow senators as they decide today whether to filibuster the bill or to let it be considered by the full Senate. That vote is an important test of how seriously senators want fairness for D.C. residents, who pay federal and local taxes and who dutifully serve in the military.

In an open letter to the Senate, Ms. Norton poignantly reminded current members of past filibusters that "sought to deny equal rights to African-Americans."

That's a legacy that senators - especially those who could cast critical yea or nay votes, such as Democrat Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Republicans Sam Brownback of Kansas, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky - should not want to repeat. Regardless of the racial or political makeup of the District, giving its residents a full vote in the House is the right thing to do.

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