“Taxation without representation,” is not just some catchy slogan plastered across license plates. It is the reality for nearly 700,000 Americans currently living in the nation’s capital. For almost 250 years now, Washington, D.C. residents have paid taxes, served in the military, and completed every task fundamentally required for an American citizen, yet they are not reaping the benefits that other tax-paying individuals are receiving: representation. In fact, the district’s residents pay more in taxes than 22 other states and pay the most per capita federal tax but still have no representation in Congress.
The district has no senator and only one non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, preventing 700,000 Americans from participating in democracy. This is entirely counterintuitive to representative democracy. It is time for Congress to grant D.C. statehood in order to end disenfranchisement of voters and to give residents power over the laws that govern them.
D.C.’s lack of statehood disproportionately affects Black representation in Congress. In the Senate, the average Black American has “only 75 percent as much representation as the average White American.” As the geographical region with the largest Black population in the United States, D.C.’s lack of statehood is contributing to the already appalling lack of representation for Black Americans in Congress. D.C. statehood, while not eliminating this gap entirely, would be a step towards a more representative Congress.
Historian Chris Myers Asch points out the power Black representation could have: “In a city where the White population would be split between Democrats and Republicans, the Black minority… whoever they supported would wind up wielding power.” In hopes of preventing the Black voice from entering politics, Republicans have been historically opposed to D.C. statehood, equating a D.C. congressional seat to an “affirmative action program.” In reality, Congress has been and continues to be affirmative action for White Americans, solely benefitting White Americans’ voting power and continually disenfranchising a majority black region by denying D.C. representation.
D.C.’s lack of statehood gives residents little to no control over their budget and laws. The Constitution grants Congress the power to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” in the nation’s capital, permitting Congress to control D.C.’s budget and make decisions on localized issues. For example, although D.C. residents voted to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, Congress blocked D.C.’s ability to gather taxes from marijuana sales, cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
When it comes to federal resources, the district’s residents are constantly short-changed. In 2020, when Congress gave federal aid to states in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, D.C. was treated as a territory and received less than half the funding of other states. Short-changed once again in 2022 when Congressional members were allowed to request funding in the 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, D.C. missed about $90 to $200 million in federal funding simply because the district does not have any voting senators.
D.C.’s reliance on the federal government is detrimental and creates dangerous situations. During the January 6th insurrection, there was a delayed reaction from the D.C. National Guard because the D.C. mayor has no authority to deploy the D.C. National Guard. Since D.C. has no statehood, it is in the hands of the president to deploy D.C.’s National Guard, and during the insurrection, President Donald Trump refused to call in the National Guard. As insurrectionists invaded the Capitol Building, threatening the lives of all inside, including congressional representatives and senators, D.C. could not safely respond because they are not granted the same power over their National Guard as states.
The US Constitution grants Congress the power to establish the nation’s capital. But it also allows for D.C. statehood. Granting statehood is easy, and unlike other democratic reforms such as Supreme Court term limits, granting statehood has been done before. The Constitution does not specify the exact size necessary for a national capital, it just limits how large one can be. A statehood bill has been passed by the House twice now, but has yet to find any success in the Senate. By cutting the nation’s capital to a two mile radius without residents around the Capitol building, the White House, the Supreme Court, and other federal buildings, 700,000 Americans are no longer disenfranchised. The steps are quite literally laid out for us. All we need is Congressional action.
The United States cannot claim to be a representative democracy until 700,000 residents (and the 3 million citizens living in Puerto Rico!) get representation in Congress and autonomous power over their laws and budget.