D.C. Voting Rights Bill Set for Hearing

Mary Beth Sheridan // Published January 17, 2009 in The Washington Post
Key congressional supporters of a D.C. voting rights bill said yesterday that they expect it will get an early hearing by the new Congress, despite President-elect Barack Obama's comment that the legislative agenda was already "chock-full."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said a House Judiciary subcommittee will hold its first hearing on the bill Jan. 27, starting the House passage process.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who co-sponsored the measure in the Senate, said in a statement that he "will move to report it out of my committee as quickly as is feasible."

Obama, told Washington Post reporters and editors Thursday that he supported giving the District a full House seat.

"But this takes on a partisan flavor, and, you know, right now I think our legislative agenda's chock-full," he said.

Norton, who recently introduced the D.C. vote bill in the House, said she expressed concern to the Obama team. Still, she said she wasn't discouraged.

"Nobody in D.C. is asking for us to be first and foremost in a year when the whole country is in pain," she said, noting that Congress was focusing on an economic stimulus package. "What I have asked for is an early vote. I believe the president will sign this bill as soon as he gets it."

Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy organization, said he was "disappointed to see him [Obama] raise that question" about passage prospects.

"To the question that he seemed to pose to himself, can we get this done, the answer is clearly yes," Zherka said.

The group sent an alert to supporters yesterday, asking them to sign a "virtual postcard" to the president-elect, urging him to move quickly on the issue.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who championed the bill when it passed the House in 2007, said in a statement that "economic recovery will be the primary focus for Congress and the Administration in the months ahead." He added, however, that "DC voting rights legislation remains a high priority, and I would like to act early to pass it."

The bill would add two seats to the House, one for the overwhelmingly Democratic District and the other for the next state in line to add a seat based on census figures. For the next few years, that seat would go to Republican-leaning Utah.

The legislation faces its first hurdle in the House, a hearing of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, on Jan. 27, the committee confirmed yesterday.

A similar bill passed the House in 2007 but fell three votes short of the 60 needed to get consideration by the Senate.

Yesterday morning, an electronic message board lit up on the John A. Wilson Building, tallying the amount of federal taxes District residents pay and featuring the "Taxation Without Representation" slogan.

D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), who sponsored the council bill establishing the sign, said it was important for both inauguration visitors and the residents and tourists who will pass by in the future to see how much District inhabitants pay in federal taxes: $113.86 a second, or more than $151 million.