DC Voting Rights: Parliamentary Purgatory

Last week, it looked as though a plan to award a House seat to the District of Columbia was on a glide-path.

Washington, DC’s non-voting Delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced last week that she “confirmed that she expects the DC Voting Rights Act to come to the House floor by next Thursday.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) released a statement indicating that he intends “to bring the DC Voting Rights Act tot eh House floor for a vote next week.”

And even the president weighed-in.

In a statement, Mr. Obama marked the day in 1862 when President Lincoln freed the slaves of Washington, DC, with remarks that urged “Congress to finally pass legislation that provides DC residents with voting representation and to take steps to improve the Home Rule Charter.”

President Obama noted that “although DC residents pay federal taxes and serve honorably in our armed services, they do not have a vote in Congress.”

So the plan was to change all of that.

But this is far from a fait accompli. And if something sidelines that the legislation again, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

The House was on the verge of okaying the measure the first time in March, 2007 when Democrats had to yank the legislation off the floor because Republicans were able to artfully link the bill to the city’s ban on handguns.

The package finally passed a few weeks later after Democrats blocked the GOP from bringing up firearms. But the bill died in the Senate. And it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because President Bush would have vetoed it.

More than a year ago, House Democrats viewed the legislation as a done deal. This time, they held huge majorities in the House and Senate. And President Obama viewed the plan in a much different light that Mr. Bush.

The package sailed through the House.

Until Senate Republicans altered the bill by velcroing an amendment to the legislation that would allow Washington resident access to handguns. The amendment, offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), altered the legislation, meaning the House would have to tangle with the bill again.

This placed Democrats in a pickle. Their anti-gun members balked, perhaps stripping the bill of the necessary support to pass. Take out the gun provisions, and many moderate to conservative Democrats who support gun rights, might have to pull their support.

Unable to conjure up the votes to work through the gun problem, Democrats dispatched the legislation to parliamentary purgatory for a year.

Now the House is poised to move the legislation again. There are no deals. And no one can say precisely how they will split the issue and approve the legislation but simultaneously protect anti and pro-gun forces in the Democratic caucus.

So despite strong calls from Norton, Hoyer and the president, the future of awarding the District of Columbia on a the House floor is tenuous. Washington, DC might not get a vote in Congress. And at the end of the day, this bill might not get a final vote on the floor, either.