Mayor Bowser Calls On Congress to Right the Wrong and End Taxation Without Representation by Making Washington, DC the 51st State
Below is the Mayor’s full testimony, as prepared for delivery.
Chairman Maloney, Ranking Member Comer, and members of this esteemed Committee, on behalf of the 712,000 residents of the District of Columbia, I thank you for convening this hearing on H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. In particular, we thank you for shepherding this measure to passage during the 116th Congress; and we respectfully seek your support to marshal it to passage again.
I want to especially thank our Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has championed equality for Washington, DC throughout her tenure, while skillfully delivering jobs, opportunity, and greater self-determination.
I am Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, DC, and I am honored to come before this committee to ask Congress to right the wrong that happened some 220 years ago when the residents of the District of Columbia were stripped of their full congressional representation.
Two years ago, in the 116th Congress, I came before this committee under the leadership of the late Elijah Cummings to dispel erroneous arguments, against DC Statehood. These are the bad-faith arguments we hear time and time again:
- They say Washington, DC statehood is unconstitutional, even though several constitutional experts have repeatedly declared that to be false. Article I of the Constitution is not an obstacle because, as H.R. 51 makes clear a “federal district” will remain for the federal government, its buildings and its workings; and the rest of the area, where people live, will become the separate state.
- They say Washington, DC is too small, or our economy is not diverse enough. Even though we’re bigger by population than two states and pay more federal taxes per capita than any state, and we pay more total federal taxes than 22 states.
- They say that Washington, DC is badly governed. This is simply not accurate. In fact, by many objective measures DC is better governed than most states. We have balanced our budget 25 times in the last 25 years. And we already operate as a state and perform the same functions that states do. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have led COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts, just as states do.
Again, two years ago we debunked those claims as thinly veiled attacks on our political leanings, and quite frankly our diversity, and history of black political power.
I come to urge this committee and this Congress to move beyond the tired, non-factual anti-DC Statehood rhetoric and extend full democracy to the residents of the District of Columbia as the founding fathers intended. I was born in Washington, DC and generations of my family – through no choice of our own – have been denied the fundamental right promised to all Americans: the right to full representation in the Congress. The simple fact is, denying American citizens a vote in the body that taxes them goes against the founding principles of this great nation.
The disenfranchisement of Washingtonians is one of the remaining glaring civil rights issues of our time. Even as the Constitution was being drafted, several members foresaw the situation that Washingtonians face today, a capital city of second-class citizens. When white residents were the only population to be affected, as they were the only ones with suffrage at the time, the founding fathers pledged to correct the wrong, and the Continental Congress was eager to offer amendments to correct it. But ultimately, the Constitution did not resolve the concerns around the future federal district’s congressional representation or self-governance.
Why did the motivation to right the wrong disappear? As time passed, and the District became majority African American, the drive to correct the wrong was replaced by racist efforts to subvert a growing and thriving majority Black city. Historic records are replete with statements of successive members of Congress referencing the “negro problem” and the “color problem” within DC as a justification to withhold Congressional representation. This was their way of saying that African Americans are unable to govern themselves, or vote for their best interests, and should therefore be denied political power and suffrage. So, does this body still believe that to be the case?
Next month, we will celebrate President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Act that freed the slaves in the District of Columbia on April 16, 1862, months before the Emancipation Proclamation freed other enslaved people. I hope to remind this Congress that District residents are still not free, as we remain disenfranchised in this body.
I urge all of you to do what our founding fathers and over two centuries of lawmakers failed to correct and grant full democracy to DC residents through statehood by enacting H.R. 51. The incremental enfranchisement of the District has historically been a bipartisan effort but is in no way a substitute for full representation in Congress.
Washington, DC has been a true partner to the federal government in every possible aspect even though Congress and the Presidents have been sporadic partners to us. We have supported continuing the critical operations of this body and other federal agencies within our borders. The federal government leaned on our health departments to process coronavirus tests and administer vaccines to federal employees and contractors. However, several provisions of federal aid to respond to the coronavirus pandemic denied us state-level funding, shortchanging us over $755 million in fiscal relief even though we operate as a city, county, and state. We now thank you Madam Chair, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, your democratic colleagues, and President Biden for righting that wrong last week in the American Rescue Plan.
The events of January 6th, where Congress was overtaken by insurrectionist mobs, show that Congress need not fear the new state of Washington, DC as it does not currently fear the states of Maryland and Virginia. Rather, the new state will be a necessary partner to securing the federal interests, not a detractor. Arguing that Washingtonians must remain disenfranchised to protect the interests of the federal government is dangerous, laughable, and downright insulting.
In conclusion, after years of disinvestment and disinterest when Congress did exercise full exclusive jurisdiction over the District and ran all local governance, my predecessors and I, with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and his colleagues and their predecessors, have worked hard to develop the fastest improving urban schools, invest in housing, healthcare facilities, recreational facilities, as well as a sports and entertainment economy, and built one of the most attractive meeting destinations in the country. We have proven our sound leadership and that there is no reason not to right this 220-year-old wrong.
Thank you again for allowing me to appear before the committee and I look forward to answering your questions.