- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Senate committee voted 11-1 Wednesday to give the District a full voting seat in Congress, adding momentum to legislation that would end decades of frustration for residents of the nation’s capital. Backers declared that they have enough support pass the measure, while critics expressed concern about its constitutionality.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said he is confident that the measure granting the District a House seat will win the 60 votes necessary to override a filibuster.

“This year, the 111th Congress has the opportunity to make history… by passing this legislation,” Mr. Lieberman said.

It is unclear when the bill will be brought to the Senate floor. A similar bill has been the subject of hearings by a House subcommittee.

The Democrats, who added substantially to their Senate majority in the 2008 elections, control 58 seats, when counting two independents who caucus with the party. President Obama is on record supporting D.C. voting rights.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and member of the committee, opposed the measure on the grounds that the bill is unconstitutional and eventually may lead to the District’s gaining two Senate seats as well. Other influential Republican senators, such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, hold the same position.

Voters in the District are overwhelmingly Democratic. Regardless, Republican support in Congress for D.C. voting rights has risen in recent years, in part because the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, also would add a House seat for his state.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of advocacy group D.C. Vote, said Congress is more likely to pass this bill than the similar one that failed to override a filibuster by three Senate votes in 2007 after passing in the House.

“We believe we have the votes and hope that Congress will continue to move quickly to pass this bill,” Mr. Zherka said Wednesday.

“Unlike the more complex issues facing Congress today, passing the D.C. Voting Rights Act is an easy win for the Democratic majority and a monumental victory for the more than half a million Americans living in D.C.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, attended the committee hearing and said she was encouraged.

“With the president long on board and the House and Senate geared up to provide him with a bill to sign, we see a light at the end of a very long tunnel for voting rights for D.C. residents,” said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat.

Mrs. Norton sponsored the legislation

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, also hailed the vote.

“Today the District of Columbia is one step closer to our long-awaited goal and constitutional right to have a vote in Congress. On behalf of the 600,000 residents of the District, I applaud the committee’s actions, and eagerly await a swift Senate vote.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was more reserved.

“We’ve got a new Congress. We need to see where the votes are,” he said.

The District has struggled for decades for greater home rule and full representation in Congress.

One major obstacle has been Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states that Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District.

The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, gave the District representation in the Electoral College. The landmark D.C. Home Rule Act, signed by President Nixon in 1973, provided local control over certain affairs, such as directly electing a mayor and city council.

Congress sent the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment, which would have granted the District the same voting rights as a state, to the states for ratification in 1978. But by the time the seven-year limitation on the act had expired, only 16 states had ratified it.

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