Invoking No Taxation Without Representation, DC Again Seeks Statehood

March 22, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — The tumultuous legacy left by rioters during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol carried through into a congressional hearing Monday on statehood for the District of Columbia.

The mayor wanted to call in the National Guard as soon as the rioters tried to break into the building but her request was delayed by a Defense Department approval requirement.

The result was a violent scandal that could have been avoided but was not “because we are not a state,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).

He was testifying on H.R. 51, a bill that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state. The new state would be renamed the “State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” to honor post-Civil War civil rights leader Frederick Douglass.

The mayor would have had authority to call in the National Guard alone on Jan. 6 if the District of Columbia were a state.

A flag is hung on Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, March 19, 2021, ahead of testimony next week by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser on D.C. statehood. This flag has 51 stars rather than the typical 50, a symbol of the District’s longtime push to be recognized as a state. (Susan Walsh/AP)

In addition, the mayor and D.C. Council could approve legislation without the current authority of Congress to override it. Previously that has included legislation on gun rights, abortion and marijuana sales that conservatives in Congress refused to allow.

Congress carved out the District of Columbia from 100 square miles of Maryland and Virginia by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801. Lawmakers set it aside as a federal district to avoid the risk a state might exert too much influence over the national government.

Further constitutional recognition of the District of Columbia as a federal district — not a state — was conferred by the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution. It granted D.C. residents a right to vote in presidential elections.

Mendelson addressed arguments against D.C. statehood when he said, “None of them overcome the basic principle that there should be no taxation without representation.”

He referred to the fact that the District of Columbia has no voting members in the Senate or the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the city’s roughly 712,000 residents pay more taxes per capita than any state.

“There is nothing asked of the residents of the 50 states that is not asked of the citizens of the District of Columbia,” Mendelson said.

It’s the two new senators D.C. would gain that created some of the stiffest opposition among Republicans. The District of Columbia is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Two new Democratic senators could shift the balance in a Senate that traditionally is dominated by a slim Republican majority.

“I think this is another political game the Democrats are playing,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

He described the statehood move as a power grab by “liberal progressives.”

He was joined in the criticism by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., who hammered away at H.R. 51 as unconstitutional and a burden on residents of surrounding states.

Few of the people who work in the city live in the District of Columbia. Most come from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the metropolitan area’s population at 6.2 million residents.

Statehood would grant the District of Columbia authority to impose additional local taxes on the out-of-state workers.

“The answer is simple,” Hice said. “It’s all about money. D.C. wants to become a state so they can levy taxes on people who work in D.C.”

Moreover, the tiny proposed state has no airport, prison or landfill of its own, meaning local residents would have to use the facilities in Maryland or Virginia but would not be required to fund them, he said.

Such criticisms drew sharp responses from Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser, who sometimes tried to talk over Republican lawmakers in a raised voice. She discussed the city’s record for a strong budget, employment and emphasis on education.

“We have proven our sound leadership and there is no reason for this Congress not to right this wrong,” Bowser said about the lack of statehood.

Beginning last weekend, Bowser directed that American flags with 51 stars be displayed along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Capitol Hill to demonstrate support for statehood.

H.R. 51 was introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D.C.’s non-voting Democratic delegate to Congress.

“H.R. 51 has both the facts and the Constitution on its side,” Holmes-Norton said.

She mentioned that her bill has 215 co-sponsors in the House and 41 in the Senate, giving the statehood proposal more support in Congress now than anytime in the decades since it first was proposed. President Joe Biden has implied he would support it.

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