D.C. Moves Step Closer To Voting Rights

The Senate took a key test vote Tuesday on voting rights for Washington, D.C. All indications are that after a 30-year campaign with repeated setbacks, Congress is poised to pass a bill giving Washington a full seat in the House of Representatives.

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Washington, D.C., is a big step closer to winning full voting rights in the House of Representatives. A proposal to give D.C. a seat in the House cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate today. It avoided a filibuster, with two votes to spare.

The prospects now look good for passage in a signing ceremony by President Obama, who, unlike his predecessor, backs D.C. voting rights. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: There may be no stronger advocate in the U.S. Senate for Washington, D.C., residents having full voting rights in Congress than Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who lives in the city.

JOE LIEBERMAN: The fact that they still don't have voting representation here should be embarrassing to a nation whose founders rallied around the revolutionary slogan: Taxation without representation is tyranny.

WELNA: The bill Lieberman's sponsoring gives Washington, D.C. - a city of 600,000 that's heavily Democratic - one seat in the House beginning in the next Congress. Its appeal is broadened by also giving a fourth House seat to fast- growing and Republican-leaning Utah. One of that state's GOP senators, Orrin Hatch, is the bill's co-sponsor.

ORRIN HATCH: Representation and suffrage are the heart of our American system of self-government. This principle is so fundamental that there must be affirmative evidence that America's founders intended to deny it to Americans living in the District. That evidence simply does not exist.

WELNA: Only one senator rose on the Senate floor today to argue against giving the District of Columbia a representative in Congress. It was the chamber's number two Republican, John Kyl.

JOHN KYL: The Constitution of the United States could not be clearer about the fact that representation is limited to the states of the union. The District of Columbia, being a federal enclave, not being a state, therefore is not entitled to congressional representation.

WELNA: That constitutional argument was enough to persuade Utah's other Republican senator, Robert Bennett. He voted to hold up the D.C. voting rights bill today, after having voted to let it move forward two years ago.

ROBERT BENNETT: The more I wrestled with the constitutional issues, the more I found it difficult to get them resolved.

WELNA: But eight Republicans sided with their Democratic colleagues, all but two of whom voted to let the D.C. voting rights bill come up for consideration. One such Republican was Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. She said she ultimately planned to vote against the bill, but she wanted first to have a good debate.

LISA MURKOWSKI: I'd like to see a constitutional amendment - just as was passed by the House and the Senate back in the '70s and, unfortunately, only ratified by 16 states.

WELNA: Many Republicans fear giving Washington, D.C., a seat in the House can only lead to demands that it be given two seats in the Senate, as well. They intend to offer amendments that could diminish support for the bill. Still, the mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, hailed today's Senate vote as a breakthrough in a struggle that's gone on for decades.

ADRIAN FENTY: Today is an amazing step forward. I think it propels us on the road towards getting a vote in the House of Representatives, and again, I think it capitalizes on what is great momentum, electricity and energy in this city right now about maintaining and claiming our full franchise.

WELNA: The lead sponsor of the legislation, Senator Lieberman, was a bit more cautious.

LIEBERMAN: If there ever was a case where it ain't over until it's over, this is it.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.

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Senate Agrees To Take Up D.C. Voting Rights

Washington, D.C., was a step closer Tuesday to getting a vote in Congress after the Senate agreed to consider a bill giving the nation's capital a seat in the House of Representatives.

The Senate voted 62-34 to begin debating legislation that would give the the District of Columbia, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, a seat in the House. The Republican stronghold of Utah would also get an extra seat, increasing the number of House members to 437.

The House passed a similar measure two years ago, but the bill was blocked in a procedural vote in the Senate, falling three votes short of the 60 needed to avoid a filibuster.

The district, which is home to an estimated 587,000 people, is the only nonterritorial portion of the United States that lacks full congressional representation. Its House member is allowed to vote in committee but not on the floor, and it has no senator.

On Monday, more than 3,000 people from across the nation called their senators to urge support for the measure, according to DC Vote, an advocacy organization. In addition, the D.C. Republican Committee hand-delivered a letter to Republican senators urging them to support the bill.

"More than half a million U.S. citizens who live in Washington, D.C., pay federal income taxes at a higher per capita rate than all but one state, yet we have no vote on raising or spending federal revenue," the letter reads. "We serve in our armed forces but have no vote on going to war."

Illir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, said the number of affirmative votes was a sign the measure could pass the Senate.

"Today was a tremendous victory for D.C. We crossed a major threshhold in the Senate," he said.

But the legislation still faces obstacles.

"The major challenge is the amendments tomorrow," Zherka said. "We expect them to include amendments on guns and, potentially, other things, as well." In the past, Congress has considered legislation that would prohibit the district from regulating guns, he said.

If the bill does pass the Senate, Zherka said, House passage is expected. President Obama has said he supports the measure.

From NPR and wire reports.

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