Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pointless silliness

Glad to see our representatives are wasting time on stuff like this.

In a move that left Republicans crying foul, the House voted Wednesday to change its rules and grant limited and mostly ceremonial voting rights to the five delegates representing the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.

The resolution passed 226-191, largely along party lines. The voting rights for the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are largely symbolic and the rules change is designed to make sure that the delegates' votes cannot affect the fate of legislation.

How will it work, you ask?
The rules change will allow the delegates to cast votes on amendments. However, they cannot vote on final passage of a bill, and, if the delegates tip the balance on any given amendment, the House will re-vote on that amendment without the delegates' participation.

So what's the point? There isn't one, really. Most of the delegates are Democrats, but because their votes don't count this is more feel-good symbology than anything else.

Pointless as the move was, Republican reaction was over the top:

Republicans were fuming after the vote and labeled it "a power grab."...

"The Revolutionary War was fought over the idea of 'taxation without representation,' but the Democrats are pushing forward the policy of 'representation without taxation,'" Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said, noting that voters in the four territories do not pay federal income taxes.

They'd have a case if the delegates had any actual power. But they don't.

There's a history here. This essentially reestablishes rules first put into place in 1993 -- the last time Democrats controlled Congress. The Republicans took over in 1994 and promptly canceled the arrangement. So this could be viewed as a simple move to reassert a political principle -- or it could be viewed as the Democrats giving Republicans a poke in the eye.

Is it Constitutional? Apparently so, as ruled by the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals in Michel v. Anderson, a 1994 ruling dealing with the 1993 law. Territories cannot have Senators or full voting rights in the House, but the House is free to give territorial delegates limited power through its organizational rules. Delegates already participate in committee votes and have other privileges too, such as franking. This is an extension of that.

So it's partisan and pointless, but legal. Now that that's over with, I hope they move on to more important things.

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