Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It appears that in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s new, bipartisan Congress old habits die hard. In 1993, at the tail end of the Democrats’ previous control of the House, members approved a rule change granting voting privileges to the delegates that represent the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. As all five delegates were Democrats, Republicans complained that the move was a blatant power grab and would eventually rescind the rule in 1995.

So guess what? Today, with four of the five delegates being Democrats, the House is scheduled to restore the rule over justified objections from Republicans. As with the old rule, the plan is to grant the five delegates a vote in what is called the Committee of the Whole, where the entire House convenes to add and debate amendments to a bill. For constitutional reasons, Democrats will likely retain the old rule’s stipulation that delegates’ votes would not count if it affected the bill’s outcome.

That last part might make it seem as if the rule is simply a good-natured way to make the residents in the territories and the nation’s capital feel more included in the legislative process without actually doing anything unconstitutional. The problem is that it is still unconstitutional. The Constitution is quite clear in Article 1 that only members chosen from states can vote in Congress. Even with the rule’s stipulation, delegates would be as involved in House debates as constitutionally empowered members.

There’s also the small matter of whether it’s fair to give a vote to delegates who represent districts much smaller than the average congressional district. As Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, wrote yesterday in Human Events Online, “the average congressional district has approximately 650,000 people, while American Samoa has 57,000, the Virgin Islands 108,000 and Guam 155,000.”

It’s also not as if delegates are without any voice in Congress. For example, they already have the privilege of voting in House committees. But we stress that this is a privilege, not a right found in the Constitution. Thus, the good-natured symbolism Democrats claim to be aiming for here dissolves in a mess of constitutional and fairness details. Despite Democratic protestations to the contrary, it’s hard to see this rule change as anything other than an attempt to add four more votes to their majority.

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