At a press conference this morning, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she would seek the return of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole vote in the 113th Congress that she first won in the 103rd. This vote has been denied when Republicans have been in power, but Norton hopes that it will be returned on January 3rd, the first day of the 113th Congress. Although not a vote on final passage of legislation, the Committee of the Whole vote permitted a District vote for the first time on the House floor. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Office of Veterans Affairs Director Matt Cary also urged the return of the District's vote. Norton also thanked DC Vote for its statement of support.
"I ask for the vote in the Committee of the Whole in the House rules out of respect for the more than 600,000 American citizens who pay their full freight in federal taxes and have fought in all the nation's wars," Norton said in her statement at the press conference. "It should not be difficult for the 112th Congress, for whom taxes has been fundamental, to understand the anguish of our residents who pay taxes the same as their own constituents, but do not get so much as a vote in the Committee of the Whole in return."
Norton's full opening statement follows.
Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Press Conference on District of Columbia Vote in the Committee of the Whole
December 27, 2012, Rayburn 2253
As Prepared for Delivery
There is nothing more painful -- or rare -- than losing a vote you once had in our country. Rights have tended to come slowly in America, but once they came, they have been respected regardless of party.
The vote I seek for the residents of the District of Columbia in the 113th Congress is not a matter of rights. It is a matter of discretion. I ask for the vote in the Committee of the Whole in the House rules out of respect for the more than 600,000 American citizens who pay their full freight in federal taxes and have fought in all the nation's wars. The District first won the the Committee of the Whole vote in the 103rd Congress, after I submitted a legal memorandum to Speaker Tom Foley. Based entirely on action the House had long taken as precedent, I argued that the District had a vote in committees, under the House rules, and that the city should also have the same vote in the Committee of the Whole as a matter of House rules. Neither the District's committee votes or the vote in the Committee of the Whole itself were final, and the Committee of the Whole itself was established by House rules, not by the Constitution. Therefore, no constitutional issue was raised.
The Speaker did not depend on my memorandum, however. He referred the question to outside lawyers. Their legal advice was that a Committee of the Whole vote for the District of Columbia was constitutional and in the discretion of the House. The House used its discretion and granted the District its first vote on the House floor.
Wherever members may stand on the full House vote for District of Columbia residents, the Committee of the Whole vote is not related to that vote. The federal courts were clear about the difference, and limits that were placed on the Committee of the Whole vote after the Republican majority sought the opinion of federal courts. Both the federal district court and the federal court of appeals ratified the action of the House under House rules.
Affording the District a limited vote on the House floor poses no more risk to the Majority than our vote in the committees on which I serve. The congressional voting rights District residents have always sought must travel an altogether different, and far more difficult, route that does not intersect with the vote we ask of the House today.
The 112th Congress has become known for its contentiousness, and I am a member of its minority party here. Yet, I was able to get good things done for the District in the 112th. Each and every one of them required assistance and leadership from the majority. From the new Southwest Waterfront law that went through two committees, to respect for the D.C. flag by the armed forces led by House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, and Ranking Member Adam Smith, not one of the many District of Columbia bills that passed the House this Congress would have gotten through committee much less passed on the House floor without help from my colleagues in the majority and their leadership.
Today, we call on this same majority to grant District residents the vote on the House floor in the Committee of the Whole in the 113th Congress that we first won in the 103rd. In this Congress today, one issue, taxes, has overridden all others. It should not be difficult for the 112th Congress, for whom taxes has been fundamental, to understand the anguish of our residents who pay taxes the same as their own constituents, but do not get so much as a vote in the Committee of the Whole in return. With return of the of the Committee of the Whole vote to the District of Columbia, that anguish would become appreciation. Residents would understand that what this D.C. vote lacks in power, it gains in respect from my colleagues for the taxpaying residents of our nation's capital. It would be difficult to think of a better start for the 113th Congress than a vote by the House for rules that signals bipartisanship, respect for the citizens of the home city of the Congress, and affirmation of the majority's own principles on taxing the American people.