Members of the Washington, D.C. City Council and several activist groups continue their tired push for statehood, claiming the city’s residents are entitled to two U.S. Senators, and pretending the founders had no reason to put the Capitol in a district that was not part of any state.
This week the Council debated new welcome signs for roads entering the District from Maryland. In addition to the traditional “Welcome to Washington, D.C.,” some members propose replacing “The Nation’s Capitol” with cutesy slogans like “Unrepresented in Congress for over 200 years” or “Enjoy your stay and join our fight for statehood.” Last year D.C. began issuing license plates emblazoned with the motto “Taxation Without Representation” – as if Congress has never paid any attention whatsoever to the needs of Washington, D.C.
The latest publicity scheme calls for renaming a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue – the Nation’s Main Street – to call attention to the statehood demand. A website set up by council members to solicit public suggestions produced such uninspired gems as “Statehood for DC Avenue” and “DC Demands Full Democracy Avenue.”
All of this noise about Congressional representation for D.C. ignores several important facts and principles.
First, Washington, D.C. is a city, not a state. It has neighborhoods, not counties. Its politics are monolithic and its people share the same interests – including an interest in subsidizing everything they do with tax money from the rest of the country.
Second, Washington enjoys greater representation in Congress and all federal agencies than any other part of the United States. The D.C. metro area has about 5.4 million residents, including 4 U.S. Senators and 5 Congressmen who live in its suburbs – and the other 530 Members of Congress and over 3,000 presidential appointees who spend most of the year there. Any idea that the needs of Washington, D.C. have no voice in government would be laughable, if it were funny.
Third, Washington, D.C. is actually closer to “representation without taxation” than the other way around. Consider that Congress subsidizes D.C. government to the tune of ¾ of a billion dollars every year – in addition to the taxes paid by residents – and the D.C. delegate in Congress sits on the Appropriations Committee to see that the money gets earmarked to all her favorite projects. Last year America’s taxpayers spent $768 million on D.C. projects such as a $35 million Tuition Assistance Grant program, new charter schools ($62 million), homeless shelters ($19 million); a local sewer project ($20 million), $100,000 each for the Whitman Walker Clinic and the Youth Power Center, and $50,000 to fund upgrades at a Washington hospital. These annual subsidies, of course, tell only a fraction of the real story, especially considering the tens of billions spent to build the city itself – and it is not built with cheap materials. What other city can afford to eschew concrete, building its sidewalks of brick and its curbs of granite? Where else are daily commuter roads maintained by the National Park Service, or traffic enforcement provided by U.S. Capitol Police? Washington is a beautiful city with parks, open spaces, fountains, plazas, circles, and magnificent architectural masterpieces – all built by the entire nation’s taxpayers.
Fourth, the founders understood exactly why the seat of government could not be part of any State, as it would provide an automatic advantage to residents of that State. In the sectional disputes that characterize a giant country – disputes that are as common today as in 1790 when Washington was founded – the balance of power is delicate and it is important. Diluting the representation of all the other states to give a single city even greater hold – over a country it already dominates – would be a colossal mistake.
Finally, residents of the District have a much simpler choice. If the issue is really about a vote in Congress as they claim, the easy fix is to give the non-federal part of the city back to Maryland (from which it was originally carved out). That would almost certainly gain one additional congressional district for Maryland. The Virginia portion of the original 10 square-mile tract was given back to that state more than 100 years ago, and that solution would still work today. But if you suspect another agenda is at work, you’re right. What is really at stake is nothing more than a partisan attempt to stack more Democratic votes in the U.S. Senate, which would be the result of statehood (for D.C. and also for Puerto Rico, another perennial proposal). Like FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court 75 years ago, it is an attempt to thwart the will of the people and the spirit of the Constitution.
The United States already include several historical quirks. For instance, Rhode Island is essentially a county, separated from Massachusetts Bay Colony because of religious differences between Roger Williams and the Puritans. And West Virginia was separated from Virginia in complete violation of the U.S. Constitution during the Civil War because of strong Union sentiments there. But no such national catastrophe plagues modern-day residents of the nation’s capitol.
In fact, D.C. residents have no desire to give up the many perks of living in Washington, from the right to in-state tuition at colleges in every state to the heavily subsidized subway system. If they seek a more appropriate name for Pennsylvania Avenue, they ought to consider calling it Perk Place. Then residents can pass GO, collect $200, and ponder the benefits of living in a world-class city built by the hard work and tax money of the entire rest of the country.