DC House Vote Dies Again

dclicenseplateYesterday, Steny Hoyer announced that Democrats had failed to achieve consensus on a bill that would give the District of Columbia a House seat.  Again. Apparently, it failed, not over the fact that it’s prima facie unconstitutional but rather because “The price” — a repeal of DC’s unconstitutional gun laws — “was too high.”

Jonathan Bernstein wonders why Democrats didn’t just ram it through when they had 60 votes in the Senate.  Beyond that,

Even more so, I really can’t understand why no one within the Democratic coalition even bothered trying to push for DC statehood during this Congress (the Constitutionally-safe option would be the carve-out, leaving a small Federal District with the monuments and some government buildings, including the White House and Capitol, along with a small state that contained all the residences; it’s a lot safer, Constitutionally, than the House-vote bill.

That presumes, though, that Senate Democrats see themselves as Democrats first and representatives of the interest of their states second.  My guess is that a substantial number of them would see giving two Senators to a city smaller than San Antonio to be in conflict with their duty to their constituents.

But Bernstein is right that this option, at least, has the virtue of being Constitutional.  DC would presumably go along with statehood and, under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress can admit any entity it wants into the Union, so long as it’s not currently part of another state that objects.

The “we’ll give DC a vote in the House in exchange for a temporary extra seat for Utah” compromise, by contrast, was a Constitutional non-starter.

As I’ve noted several times in the past, my personal preference would be retrocession, whether real or virtual. Essentially, giving DC — minus the Bernstein carveout — back to Maryland.  That solves the problem of giving the District’s residents representation in Congress — which I absolutely believe they deserve — and yet not giving them the ridiculously outsized power that would come from statehood.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tim D. says:

    Smaller than San Antonio, yet larger than Wyoming!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population

    That seems like it should be somewhat relevant…

  2. James Joyner says:

    Smaller than San Antonio, yet larger than Wyoming!

    Right. I mention that in a linked post. But my argument is that, just because we’ve made a mistake once doesn’t mean we should compound it in the future. Knowing what we know now, we’d have subdivided the northwest much differently, creating far fewer states. There wouldn’t, for instance, be TWO Dakotas.

  3. There is an argument that, because of the special status of the District under the Constitution and the circumstances under which is what created, that D.C. Statehood would required a Constitutional Amendment:

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Lecture/DC-Statehood-Not-Without-a-Constitutional-Amendment

    Even if that argument is correct, you’re right that statehood is a non-starter politically. Republicans certainly won’t agree to create two permanently Democratic Senate seats, and I doubt some Democrats would, either as you said.

    I’m not sure I agree, though, that there’s something wrong with the way states exist today.

  4. Trumwill says:

    I’m not sure I agree, though, that there’s something wrong with the way states exist today.

    I do! There’s no excuse for the existence of the state of Idaho, where there are three constituent components with comparatively little interaction and one of which with a culture vastly different than the other two and two of the three sharing more in common with a nearby state than the other constituent parts of Idaho.

    Of course, that’s not what you mean. But I think it does point to the folly of drawing state lines just because. Would have been better to have larger states with provisions that they can decide to split up (with certain population minimums) if they so choose.

  5. Trumwill says:

    I wonder if we could bribe/flatter Maryland into taking DC back by saying “Fine, our capital will officially be Washington City, Maryland.”

  6. JKB says:

    No one is forced to become a resident of the District. All came by choice of themselves or their ancestors. They can also choose to move to one of the states that make up the Union. It only requires a move that is shorter than leaving most counties.

    Don’t like the special circumstances of living in the Federal District, then move.

  7. Move the nation’s capitol to Nebraska. There’s plenty of space and cheap land to carve out a federal zone that people will not be expected to live in. And think of all the jobs such a move would create!

    Moving there also removes the old sneak attack fears from submarines. Finally, I think Washington, DC, would revert back to Maryland in a heartbeat. Heck, I might even experience a bit of schadenfreude to see all the beltway bandits and lawyers take a bath after all they’ve stolen from the rest of the country.

  8. Trumwill says:

    Move the nation’s capitol to Nebraska.

    Have we talked about this before? I’ve been saying it forever. No one seems to get it.

    I think that Maryland would probably prefer to have DC as the capital (and all the well-to-do people it brings – they don’t all live in the suburbs) than what would be left of DC if we moved the capital to Nebraska.

    So these may be mutually exclusive desires on my part.

  9. Tim D. says:

    Three modest proposals:

    (1) Allow DC residents to opt out of paying income tax until yall finalize the chin-scratching and allow us to have representation in Congress.

    (2) Since (according to JKB) taxation without representation is no big deal and we can always move away from home if we don’t like it, each cycle we should randomly pick a Congressional district to disenfranchise and DC would get *their* vote for the 2 years.

    (3) DC residents who work in the capitol building should go on strike until Congress decides to give them the vote. (Actually, that’s not such a bad idea, we do have them surrounded…)

  10. just me says:

    I am more in the retrocession camp than statehood camp.

    Right. I mention that in a linked post. But my argument is that, just because we’ve made a mistake once doesn’t mean we should compound it in the future. Knowing what we know now, we’d have subdivided the northwest much differently, creating far fewer states. There wouldn’t, for instance, be TWO Dakotas.

    Well I am not sure Wyoming in and of itself was a mistake. Those states may be sparsely populated, but they also come with natural resources, industries and a variety of ways to contribute to the US economy.

    What exactly does DC produce? What natural resources does it contain? Is there any industry in DC that is unrelated to government?

  11. James Joyner says:

    Well I am not sure Wyoming in and of itself was a mistake. Those states may be sparsely populated, but they also come with natural resources, industries and a variety of ways to contribute to the US economy.

    Right, right. The problem is the Great Compromise which gave each state two senators and, consequently, two additional electoral votes. It doesn’t make sense anymore, since the individual states have long since being sovereign entities. Indeed, without that artifact, I wouldn’t have any objection to a carveout/statehood option for DC.

    What exactly does DC produce? What natural resources does it contain? Is there any industry in DC that is unrelated to government?

    It’s a teeny, tiny urban area carved out of Maryland for the sole purpose of housing the nation’s capital. Ted Turner has ranches bigger than DC.

  12. joe says:

    What exactly does DC produce?
    Awful baseball franchises.

  13. Trumwill says:

    Well I am not sure Wyoming in and of itself was a mistake. Those states may be sparsely populated, but they also come with natural resources, industries and a variety of ways to contribute to the US economy.

    Yeah, but they would still be contributing if they were a part of Colorado or Montana.

  14. eyelessgame says:

    I guess the question of whether DC deserves statehood, given that Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska all have similar or smaller populations, comes down to whether you believe making something a state is enfranchising the people, or enfranchising the property.

    If DC is to be disenfranchised because it is too small, clearly Alaska should become multiple states, and Rhode Island and Connecticut should disappear. I’m sure a lot of Republicans would like that idea — doesn’t necessarily make it fair, though.