Staff Editorial: Cheh bill on House vote offers intriguing prospect

Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh speaks at her 2015 inauguration. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2015)

To the long-standing dismay of many D.C. residents, Congress is empowered to establish laws affecting the District and to overturn local D.C. laws. All too frequently, it exercises this authority.

At the same time, Washingtonians aren’t adequately represented in the Capitol. When the House and Senate take an action to overturn a D.C. Council action, we don’t even have a representative who can vote “no” — merely a non-voting member of the House of Representatives.

Obviously, we would like all of these issues resolved. Congress should not have such control over the District, and D.C. voters deserve the same voice in the House and Senate as other Americans. Statehood is the logical answer to these problems.

In the meantime, we’re intrigued by a clever bill from Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, inspired by the DC Appleseed advocacy group, to grant a House vote to the District’s delegate on matters that relate only to D.C. The delegate, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton, would still have no vote on nationwide issues.

This bill observes that the District’s Home Rule Charter provides the D.C. Council with “the authority to amend federal legislation that applies exclusively to the District.” Given that the status quo of a non-voting D.C. House member was established by an act of Congress, Ms. Cheh and DC Appleseed contend that the council is entitled to modify that law. The reasoning: It would affect only the District if the delegate were to vote on D.C. issues.

While not everyone will agree with this interpretation, we believe it’s well worth pursuing. Even if such a law were to be challenged — in court or during Congress’ standard 30-day review period — the debate would bring welcome attention to the District’s inexcusable lack of control over its own affairs. That would serve the District’s long-term goals of getting out from under the federal thumb on local issues, and of securing the appropriate voice in Congress on national ones.

We applaud DC Appleseed — also the brainchild behind the District’s clever budget autonomy measure — for its inventiveness on this issue. We also thank Ms. Cheh for bringing forward the bill and the numerous other council members who have signed on in support.