What if D.C. had Taxation with Representation?

This weekend, Americans across the country will celebrate Independence Day. We celebrate the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring their freedom from Great Britain. One of the primary complaints of the American colonists was that they were subject to “taxation without representation;” the colonists had to pay taxes imposed on them by the British government, but had no representation in government to advocate for the colonies. If this phrase is familiar to you outside of American history class, it is because it is the featured slogan on all licenses plates in the District of Columbia.

The nearly 659,000 people who live in the capital, Washington, D.C., do not have representation in Congress, but pay taxes (and are subject to all other federal laws). There is no one representing the District in the Senate, and the House of Representatives has one D.C. member non-voting delegate (Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton).

Members of Congress introduced legislation that would better pave the way for those in the District to have greater rights. At the end of June 2015, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced S. 1688 “A bill to provide for the admission of the State of New Columbia into the Union.” The legislation currently has 17 co-sponsors and would give Washington, D.C. residents full voting representation in Congress while also granting the District full statehood.

In January, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) reintroduced the New Columbia Admission Act (H.R. 317) in the House, which currently has 120 co-sponsors. This bill would create the State of New Columbia and speed up the process for creating and implementing a state constitution, as well as having elections for two senators and voting representation in the House of Representatives.

There was also progress in this area in the last Congress. Last September, for the first time in twenty years, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs had a full committee hearing on DC Statehood, “Equality for the District of Columbia: Discussing the Implications of S. 132, The New Columbia Admission Act of 2013”. However, this legislation did not make it further than the hearing in the 113th Congress. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 2000 Reform rabbis, submitted a statement in strong support of the New Columbia Admission Act of 2013 for the record at the hearing.

Reform Jews have advocated for increased rights for the District for over half a century. As Jews, once disenfranchised members of society, we are well aware of the importance of having elected representation. In the Book of Numbers, we learn of God’s instructions to Moses to gather 70 elders of Israel to serve as representatives of the people (11:16–25) and in the Talmud, Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed until the community is first consulted.”

Government officials must be accountable to the citizens they represent, and having members of Congress elected in DC are key to ensuring that all have sufficient representation in forming our nation’s policies. As we celebrate Independence Day, we must also keep in mind that the rights and freedoms that the Founders fought for are still not a reality for so many people, including the citizens of the District of Columbia.

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Melanie Fineman

About Melanie Fineman

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated from Brown University in 2014 and is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, where she is a member of Temple Shalom of Newton.

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