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Another Approach to D.C. Voting Rights

Paul Goldman, one of Virginia's leading political gurus and a longtime adviser to former Gov. Doug Wilder, has an idea about a new approach to gaining D.C. voting rights. I'm not sure I buy it, but Goldman, former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, often knows what political strategies might work. Here, on the morning when a new mayor launches his administration, is Goldman's take on the injustice that never seems to go away:

" Taxation without representation" is the slogan on District of Columbia license plates. For the Democrats in control of DC, the issue is seen as one of electoral fairness.

Right principle, wrong era. The unfairness of such a situation was self-evident to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and even John Marshall.

Right principle, wrong principals. They could talk the talk. But in their day, women couldn't vote, the same for all but a small minority of African-Americans. Sizeable numbers of white males were also without the franchise for various reasons.

Truth is, "taxation without representation" was anti-British slogan, not a statement of future constitutional principle. For sure, a London-imposed Tea Tax was unfair. But 266 years later, today's American is not sure "taxation with representation" is necessarily better. At last count, we had a federal income tax, an alternative minimum tax, social security tax, self-employment tax, capital gains tax, medicare tax, estate tax, gas tax, cable tax, phone tax, airline tax, and many other taxes labeled as fees.

We also have a huge federal deficit, a record national debt, trillions of dollars of projected short-falls in Social Security and Medicare, and the most pampered political elites in the history of democratically elected legislatures. So with all due respect, the leaders of the District of Columbia might do better to forget the Reverend Jonathan Mayhew, James Otis and the talk of representation and tyranny.

Right principle, wrong focus. Think taxes, not electoral fairness. Forget "guilt". Think "greed" as Gordon Gecko would have said in the movie "Wall Street."

There is an easy 3 step process to get the American people to demand that their state legislatures enact a constitutional amendment giving DC voting rights:

Step 1. Upon the convening 207th Session of Congress, House Democrats should pass a law eliminating all federal taxation in the District of Columbia this coming July 4th. Unless, of course, 3/4 of our state legislatures have ratified a Constitutional amendment giving DC a voting representative in Congress.

The other 300,000,000 million Americans can hardly complain. The choice will be for their elected state representatives to make. Once passed by the House, the bill will go to the US Senate.

Step 2. 49 Republicans Senators are not going to filibuster this bill; quite the opposite. They will support the bill, but insist on an additional provision: the alternative minimum tax will be eliminated if DC gets voting rights. The AMT is one of the most hated taxes in America, increasingly being paid by the most powerful group of swing voters in the country.

Step 3. House and Senate Democrats want to keep their new Congressional majorities. So they will join with the GOP to pass the Yes DC/No AMT legislation. President Bush is against giving DC voting rights. He may be stubborn on Iraq. But watch him do a 180.

He will not only sign the bill. But the President will sign it underneath a big "Mission Accomphlised" banner hanging from the windows of the Texas State Legislature in Austin. Before the ink is dry. the Texas legislature will be the first to ratify the XXVIII constitutional amendment giving DC the right to elect a member of the House of Representatives.

Every other state lawmaker will have the same two options: 1) Oppose the DC voting rights amendment. Politically, this will be seen as supporting elimination of federal taxes for DC residents while imposing a hated tax on their own constituents.

Or 2) Support the DC voting rights amendment. Politically, this will be seen as eliminating a tax hated by the most important swing voting bloc in the country and correcting a flaw in our democratic system.

Easy choice, hard lesson in reality. Eliminating the alternative minimum tax will save Americans about 1 trillion dollars over the next ten years. Conversely, it will increase the projected federal budget deficit by the same amount.

Taxation with representation. Or no taxation but no vote either.

DC politicians say they want taxation the former as a matter of principle. Yet the single vote in the House amounts to 1/4 of 1% of the total membership. The mathematical odds of this one vote blocking something DC residents don't want, or getting them something they do want, is extremely small.

This is why we have a US Senate: otherwise, small states like Delaware would never have voted to ratify the Constitution. So DC leaders should not be surprised if their constituents would actually prefer no-tax option. Imagine the irony. After all these years, the Yes DC/No AMT strategy will finally get Texas and the other 49 states working speedily to get DC voting right.

Yet secretly, the residents of the nation's capitol may be hoping in vain that the constitutional amendment would not pass. One vote, a dozen taxes. How would you choose?

By Marc Fisher |  January 3, 2007; 7:58 AM ET
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Who needs another incompetent fool in Congress. I vote for no taxes and no representation.

Posted by: Omar | January 3, 2007 9:38 AM

Eliminating the AMT and increasing the deficit by $1 trillion would be such a fiscally stupid policy choice that not even DC voting rights would be enough to justify enacting it. It sounds to me as though Mr. Goldman is just annoyed that he got hit with the AMT, the triggering threshold of which, I concede, does need to be raised and indexed.

Goldman also apparently never bothered to read the DC voting rights amendment that Congress submitted to the states in 1978. It provided for representation in both the House and the Senate, as well as a vote on ratification of future constitutional amendments, just like Delaware.

Posted by: Steve | January 3, 2007 9:50 AM

While I disagree with the previous posting in regards to the AMT, I do think this proposal is about a silly as it gets.

What color is the sky in the world where a bill eliminating federal taxes in DC actually gets passed?

After reading that, I felt no responsibility to read, let alone take seriously, the rest of Mr. Goldman's proposal.

Posted by: Glover Park | January 3, 2007 9:55 AM

Why doesn't DC just do what Virginia did with Arlington...have Maryland take back the land they gave up to house the federal seat of government. If that results in census numbers granting Maryland more seats, so be it. Existing lands that hold government buildings, like the Pentagon in Virginia, would still be controlled by the Feds. Problem solved.

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 3, 2007 10:24 AM

AMEN! it needs to be one or another. It would be great to have no taxes in the district. however, i fear that there would be a backlash of other federal funding for district projects.

Posted by: Johngalt | January 3, 2007 10:26 AM

I actually think that barring a constitutional amendment with full representation in both houses (any lesser measures could likely be found unconstitutional; only states can vote in Congress), the fairest option would be to eliminate the federal income tax in the District. After all, DC is the only Federal district which pays federal income tax (cf. Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.). We're not a state, we have no representation in the Federal government, so why should we have to pay taxes to it?

Posted by: Ryan in DC | January 3, 2007 11:27 AM

"Why doesn't DC just do what Virginia did with Arlington...have Maryland take back the land they gave up to house the federal seat of government. If that results in census numbers granting Maryland more seats, so be it. Existing lands that hold government buildings, like the Pentagon in Virginia, would still be controlled by the Feds. Problem solved."

This idea has been proposed many times and actually gained a fair amount of support during the 80s. Unfortunately, the Maryland legislature has never been willing to take DC back. Somehow they were less than thrilled with the idea of taking responsibility for a city that consistently reelcted Marion Barry and set world class records for being disfuntional. Maybe Maryland's attiude will change now that the city has made some progress on improvemnt.

BTW, When Alexandria and Arlington were returned to Virginia, Richmond was happy to have them. They might feel differently today.

Posted by: Woodbridge Va | January 3, 2007 11:32 AM

"I actually think that ... the fairest option would be to eliminate the federal income tax in the District."

Jack Kemp has proposed this idea, for which he was roundly mocked from both the right (why would the GOP want to cut taxes for a Democratic stronghold?) and left (can you imagine how many current District residents would be displaced by the resulting influx of huddled millionaires yearning to breathe tax-free?).

As for Goldman's scenario, I have my doubts that step 2 would happen the way he suggests. Maybe he knows the spirit of the Hill better than I do, but it seems more likely that the GOP would filibuster, or the Democrats would use a procedural method to stop the GOP from submitting an amendment linking the proposal to the AMT, or that an amendment linking DC voting rights to the abolition of the AMT would kill the proposal deader than Saddam.

I'll give Goldman credit for observing that what we really should want is Senate representation, but, if you think the GOP hates the idea of creating one new Democratic House seat, wait until you see their response to two new Democratic Senate seats for a state with only about 120% the population of Wyoming. Baby steps, baby steps.

Posted by: quaker | January 3, 2007 12:53 PM

I have long thought that eliminating the Federal taxes for DC residents works, particularly if the city instituted a flat 16-18% tax, with the first $30,000 exempted.

Posted by: DC Voter | January 3, 2007 2:03 PM

Putting aside the merits of two politically charged issues, pairing a bill on tax cuts with a constitutional amendment seems hopelessly misguided.

What's next, a tax exemption for a favored religion absent passage of a constitutional amendment allowing state support of that religion?

Posted by: ah | January 3, 2007 2:04 PM

"the residents of the nation's capitol"

Does he mean the rodents, birds, and insects?

Posted by: Mark | January 3, 2007 2:45 PM

The idea is alluring on the surface, but I tend to agree with Quaker.

We do need representation in the Senate though. One House seat is symbolic, not substantial, representation.

Posted by: Mark in DC | January 3, 2007 3:15 PM

Which is why the retrocession approach seems to be ultimately the most doable. It creates one D seat in the House, and mildly moves Maryland towards Ds in the Senate.

Surely Maryland, if given enough extra federal support, could be persuaded to retake its portion (or 90% of it, excluding the Mall and core federal areas) of the District.

Posted by: ah | January 3, 2007 4:03 PM

The problem is, Maryland doesn't want the District and all of the problems it brings. There are enough problems in Baltimore, why would Maryland want another city with just as many similar problems -- crime, schools, etc.? It would take *a lot* of money to make it a possibility.

Posted by: Fred | January 3, 2007 4:15 PM

But where would the $1 trillion (the alleged "cost" to the government) from repealing the AMT go? Would it go "poof", under someone's mattress, into a rabbit hole in the backyard? No, it would be put to productive use, either in the form of investments, or consumer spending. It would flow into the economy, according to the tastes of each taxpayer, not according to the tastes of Congressional appropriators. Less tax burden would encourage people to work harder and save more. And likely, "ordinary" non-AMT revenues would rise as a result. Tax cuts are not a zero-sum game.

As for retrocession: bad idea. If I wanted to live in Maryland, I could just move there.

Posted by: Patrick | January 3, 2007 4:16 PM

People underestimate the value of one House seat. Granted, one vote is not very substantial, but how is any other city of our size any better off? It's not like state blocs vote in unison. No congressional district has any more inherent power than another.

And moreover, if DC does get one house member, and that member serves long enough, he/she could get a chair on a powerful committee. That is influence.

Posted by: Reid | January 3, 2007 4:49 PM

Ah, the old retrocession idea. Except that Maryland doesn't want us and most of us don't want to be in Maryland.

As for representation vs. tax exemptions -- a federal tax ban would be good, but it won't pass muster. Could you imagine how fast DC would be overrun by everyone seeking a tax shelter? Faster than vaherder could drive in from Clifton or wherever out there he's from.

And would the feds pick up the slack for the costs of running local, city and federal functions?

Truth is, the feds and the locals each have some responsibility to bear for the messed-up predicament DC is in, and tax reform, retrocession and every other "quick fix" is nowhere near what's needed to get us on the right track.

Posted by: dirrtysw | January 3, 2007 5:03 PM

I assume many of you don't actually live in DC. Many of us Washingtonians like living in DC because it is not part of Maryland or Virginia. We like it that way. It is a cultural thing. You get it? DC is on the track, believe it or not, or fiscal independence.

There is a lot going for DC, and I would much rather see the creation of a new state than retrocession. DC can and should stand on its own two feet without the help of another state. It just will be that good. Not being a part of Virginia or a part of Maryland is just a way of life from here on out. DC's economic activity is actually higher than 15 states. Count 'em. 15 US States! But, we do need full representation, and we want it now.

Year by year, DC is making decisions which are moving it closer to full independence - 2007 The mayor takes full control of the schools (unprecendented), 2008 Work on the DC Forensics Lab begins (unprecedented with no more reliance on the Feds). 2008 - DC Attorney General prosecutes cases locally without Fed help (unprecedented). By 2010, DC's tax base should be substantially larger, and everyone will get a surprise when the 2010 Census count gets underway. And, the list goes on and on.

Posted by: otavio_dc | January 3, 2007 5:30 PM

"As for retrocession: bad idea. If I wanted to live in Maryland, I could just move there."

Well, then by that same logic, if you wanted a vote, you wouldn't live in DC now would you?

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 3, 2007 7:29 PM

"Well, then by that same logic, if you wanted a vote, you wouldn't live in DC now would you?"

And some of us are willing to fight for progress. We can live in DC and fight for our vote. If we leave it to the next man to fight for and take the easy way out, then it makes things that much harder to accomplish.

Posted by: otavio_dc | January 4, 2007 3:05 AM

Maryland and Virginia original gave up lands so that the Federal government would have a politically neutral home base. So that they would not have to cater to any one party that controlled the lands on which they operated to govern the nation. Congress explicitly passed legislation to this end in the creation of the District. Now, we have people wanting to rewrite history and have a "do-over" from the original intent. It is no surprise the majority political affiliation of these people expecting their unjust and undo "entitlement".

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 4, 2007 10:16 PM

"Now, we have people wanting to rewrite history and have a "do-over" from the original intent. It is no surprise the majority political affiliation of these people expecting their unjust and undo "entitlement"."


Rather, it is obvious that shouldering society's full burden while being excluded from basic representation is the greater injustice.

Posted by: Mark in DC | January 5, 2007 10:16 AM

You are all deluded in thinking that the land that was created for DC was ever intended to be a State. It was not. If that were the intent of the function of DC, it would have never even been created to begin with. Be proud that you hold the land from which the federal government functions and that you are not a political force that will distract them from their mission. That is no burden. To think otherwise is unpatriotically selfish.

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 5, 2007 10:28 PM

"You are all deluded in thinking that the land that was created for DC was ever intended to be a State. It was not."

So, Mike from Arlington, can we count upon your support for the District's re-annexation of Arlington, as originally planned by Congress? After all, not only is it contrary to the original intent of the Framers for Arlingtonians to have Congressional representation, but when you consider how many Arlingtonians work for the Federal government and how many huge Federal facilities are in Arlington, it's a threat to the smooth and impartial functioning of the Federal government for Arlingtonians to be represented in Congress.

So, join us in giving up your Congressional representation too. To do otherwise, after all, would be unpatriotically selfish.

Posted by: quaker | January 6, 2007 12:24 PM

This plan should be named "Congressional Procedure on How to Make DC 80% White and 15% Asian in within a Day"

Posted by: yuppy | January 8, 2007 8:13 AM

"So, join us in giving up your Congressional representation too."

See, I knew you were deluded.

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 8, 2007 6:50 PM

"So, join us in giving up your Congressional representation too."

Big difference in giving something up that you never had.

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 8, 2007 6:52 PM

If Arlington were DC, you can bet that I would live in Alexandria or Fairfax.

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 8, 2007 6:56 PM

"See, I knew you were deluded."

C'mon, Mike, whatever happened to principle? If DC shouldn't be represented in Congress because the Constitution doesn't provide for it, then Arlington shouldn't have voting rights either because Arlington's representation is also contrary to the Constitution. There's nothing in the Constitution that allowed Congress to retrocede Arlington to Virginia that wouldn't allow Congress to take it back.

Now, I'm hardly delusional. I'm well aware that there's a perfectly good reason you'd never accept losing your Congressional representation. It's because, despite your earlier claim of Constitutional principle, you have no principles whatsoever. You want to screw DC, and you'll use any lever that will let you do so, no matter how much you have to contradict yourself to do so.

So just admit it. Say "I think that people I don't like aren't entitled to Congressional representation." Say "Only Republicans should be allowed to vote." At least be open in your contempt for the rule of law.

Posted by: quaker | January 9, 2007 10:16 AM

Quaker, see my first post. That would give you what you want, Constitutionally. Last I looked, Arlington is part of the Commonwealth of Virginia and part of the Constitutional count of votes Virginia gets in elections for representation. Where you are looking that says Arlington does not get a vote is somewhere I cannot see. And, from this short exchange, I can hardly see how you can arrogantly claim to know what my principles are.

Posted by: Mike in Arlington | January 19, 2007 7:40 PM

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