- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Since 1993, the District's delegate to Congress has had limited voting privileges. As things stand, the delegate can vote on legislation in committee but not in the Committee of the Whole, where the House conducts most of its important work. Should that change? Probably.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's congressional delegate, is again floating a proposal for full voting privileges. She first won the right to vote in 1993, after Democrats captured the White House and retained control of the House of Representatives. Republicans opposed the delegate-voting proposal after the Democratic delegates from the four nonvoting U.S. territories American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, got themselves included in the proposal.

Congress eventually agreed on a compromise that essentially hinged on one caveat. If legislation passed the full House by less than a five-vote margin, another vote would be taken without the delegates. In 1995, Congress changed the law again, this time prohibiting the delegates from voting at all in the Committee of the Whole.

Interestingly, the delegates from the four territories have not been as persistent as Mrs. Norton, who brings the issue to the House Rules Committee prior to each new Congress. And, for about $2 billion worth of reasons, she will do the same for the consideration of the 107th Congress when it convenes in early January.

That $2 billion is the amount of federal income taxes paid each year by D.C. residents. It ranks near the top when compared with congressional districts elsewhere in the United States.

There are other concerns as well. For example, Congress has permitted Puerto Rico, whose residents have enjoyed citizenship and a special commonwealth status since 1917, to receive about $12 billion in federal aid each year. By comparison, Puerto Rico returns a mere one-fourth of that $12 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Also, the District used to enjoy a special federal payment each year in lieu of taxes. It no longer receives such a payment.

Support for the D.C. delegate's privilege to vote in the Committee of the Whole must not be construed as support for full congressional representation or support for D.C. statehood. Republicans and Democrats alike have argued, and rightfully so, that Congress cannot act to supersede the U.S. Constitution.

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