Monday, March 2, 2009

March 1, 2009

Congress these days is amusing itself with an old favorite issue--should Americans who live in Washington, D.C., be represented in Congress? We never have been. We are allowed to vote for president but have no congressmen (well, one non-voting delegate but that really doesn't count) nor senators.

Those who think it should stay that way cite the Constitution, which says clearly in Article I, "The House of Representatives shall be chosen every second year by the People of the several States...." And the District, of course, is not a state. It's a district.

So why not amend the Constitution? Congress approved an amendment giving the District a congressman and two senators back in 1978, but it didn't win approval from enough states to take effect. The last effort to simply pass a bill failed in the Senate.

This year, the Senate has approved the bill, but Republican John Ensign of Nevada attached a really clever amendment which would annul most of D.C.'s relatively strict gun control laws. Ensign presumably figures that's a bill-wrecker because a lot of people who think Washingtonians should have a Congressman also favor gun control. He may very well be right about that.

The bill, with his amendment, has passed the Senate. This coming week the House is expected to pass a version without the amendment, setting up a Senate-House conference to reach some sort of compromise. If they fail, the bill dies. If they succeed, the bill becomes law but will almost certainly face a court challenge because, again, the District isn't a state.

It's the kind of good tangle parliamentarians can love. If, on the other hand, you are Eleanor Holmes Norton, who's been the District's non-voting delegate to Congress for about a hundred years, you probably want to scream and start climbing the walls.

Londoners vote, so do Parisians and Berliners. I guess we're just special, somehow.

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