Saturday, December 6, 2008

Taxation Without Congresspeople

I used to live in Washington DC, land of license plates that proclaim "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION". Washington DC is a city of six hundred thousand people with no voting representation in Congress. The District has three electoral votes in Presidential elections, although it only earned those votes in the 1960s with the 23rd Amendment.

The debate over whether to grant the District full voting rights in Congress can be boiled down to three statements:

(1) Washington DC is an overwhelmingly Democratic city which generally elects Democratic politicians.
(2) Generally, Democrats support DC voting rights on principle and Republicans oppose DC voting rights on principle.
(3) There is absolutely no relation between statements (1) and (2) and to suggest otherwise is to be cynical, disrespectful and cheeky.

I happen to disagree with statement (3).

There are two commonly discussed alternatives to keeping with the status quo:

1. Make DC a state, or at least give it voting rights in Congress. This would (until the next massive tectonic shift in American party politics turns DC solid GOP or Green or something) give the Democrats two more Senators and one more Representative, since DC is so overwhelmingly safely Democratic.

I personally have no problem with this. A lot of people think there is something deeply unaesthetic about altering DC's status, or that it goes against the wishes of the Founders. People who say this tend to be Republicans who insist it has nothing to do with the fact that DC's Democratic leanings are pretty obvious.

2. Give DC back to Maryland already, if the residents can't stop bitching about having no voting representation in Congress. What would the political ramifications be? Maryland would get an extra electoral vote and a reliably Democratic House seat. Democratic Senate candidates from Maryland would find a more favorable electoral landscape. But the Democratic Party would lose its 3 safe electoral votes from DC.

Frankly, I don't have a huge problem with this idea either, although it would slightly hurt the Democrats around Presidential election time.

Both of these involve getting rid of the Federal District that's in the Constitution and everything. But either of the above solutions would require a Constitutional amendment anyway. And I don't fully understand the need for a Federal District in the modern United States anyway, given that we're no longer really the "federation of squabbling states" whose representatives needed a safe neutral ground for meeting and lawmaking.

But for those who want to retain the idea of a Federal District which doesn't vote in Congress, Matthew Yglesias has the idea of shrinking the constitutionally mandated "federal district" to a little rump that no one actually lives in. (Except for the President and First Family, who aren't legal residents of DC to begin with.)

This is a very odd idea and I'm not sure what I think of it, but now that I've heard of it I can't help myself from pondering it.

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