• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • The Defense Bill and D.C. Representation Don't Mix

    Since the Democrats retook control of Congress in January 2007, liberal lawmakers have been working to advance one of their favorite causes: granting the District of Columbia a full seat in the House of Representatives. They have tried on several occasions to pass legislation to accomplish this and have been thwarted each time, most recently in the spring.

    In a new effort to ram the bill through, its backers may try to attach it to the conference report of the must-pass defense spending bill. By linking the two unrelated bills, the Left has put Constitution-minded lawmakers in a difficult position: they can vote for important defense legislation that contains unconstitutional provisions, or they can vote against it and be pilloried for denying funding to the troops.

    This is just the latest in a series of tricks to drum up political support for the plan. For example, in a transparent effort to garner Republican support, the D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009 would also grant an additional House seat to GOP-leaning Utah. And last week, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) even went so far as to compare the status of District residents to that of Baghdadis living under the thumb of a murderous Iraqi dictatorship.

    Unfortunately, it seems the Left is simply engaged in rhetoric about this important question. The plan’s proponents appear unwilling to engage in a substantive debate about the merits of the proposal, which runs counter to the plain language of the Constitution and the Founders’ intentions for the nation’s capital. The Constitution makes clear that “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several states,” and the District of Columbia is not a state. Simple legislation cannot change this fact, as earlier Congresses understood when they passed constitutional amendments to resolve the question of District representation.

    Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky explains that the legislation’s principal justification stands on weak constitutional footing:

    About the only argument that the bill’s proponents can muster is that because the Constitution gives Congress the right to exercise “exclusive Legislation” over the District, it has the ability to provide the District with a House seat.

    That’s a losing argument. The Constitution’s provision giving Congress the power to run the affairs of the District of Columbia — the seat of the nation’s capitol — doesn’t wipe out other parts of the document. Congress could not, for example, restrict the First Amendment rights of District residents.

    There is a strong case to be made that District residents ought to enjoy representation in Congress. After all, our nation was founded on the principle of consent of the governed. But even then, our Founders maintained that this consent need not be given through direct representation, as my colleague Joe Postell and I argue:

    This does not mean, however, that citizens are entitled to being governed exclusively by directly chosen representatives. “It is sufficient for such a government,” Madison continued, “that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people.”

    For instance, the Founders maintained that the judicial branch is a representative branch, even though its members are only indirectly appointed by the people, through the chief executive (who is also appointed indirectly by the people). By this reasoning, the District is already represented in the national government to a certain extent, because it votes for President through the Electoral College.

    Since the Left has seen its legislative efforts slowed of late, it’s perhaps no surprise that they want to enact parts of their agenda where they can. But that’s no reason to hold funding for our men and women in uniform hostage to a law that violates both our Founders’ vision and the plain meaning of our nation’s highest law.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    One Response to The Defense Bill and D.C. Representation Don't Mix

    1. citizenw says:

      Lame Argument. Equal Representation demands a common denominator, and in this case, each American in the fifty states is represented by one Representative and two Senators.

      "VI That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the public good."

      "VII That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority without consent of the representatives of the people is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised."

      Virginia Declaration of Rights, June, 1776 authored by George Mason, who was directly responsible for the fact that there IS a Bill of Rights, and who was a mentor to Madison. Madison, the mentee, apparently, never achieved the level of understanding of his mentor.

      As part of the Posterity for whom the Founders pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor to secure Liberty, denizens of DC deserve Equality, Nothing More, and will settle for Equality, Nothing Less. They have no say in how their countrymen deal with this matter of principle. This is an American Sham, and an American Shame.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×