D.C. residents and city lawmakers packed a Senate hearing Monday for their first chance in two decades to make the case that the nation’s capital should be the 51st state. They came prepared with statistics: $4 billion in federal income taxes are paid annually by city residents. They came with constitutional theories: D.C. residents are unfairly “subjugated” without a voting member of Congress. And they came with stacks of testimony often built around one word to describe the District’s condition. When it comes to full democracy, the rights of D.C. residents are “denied,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). From the dais, however, there wasn’t much interest. Only two senators attended the first hearing on D.C. statehood in almost 21 years. Those two were Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who introduced the bill, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who called the whole exercise a waste of time. Coburn then promptly left after little more than a half hour. Carper’s exact reasoning for calling the unusual hearing — and on a day that many members of his committee remained in their districts — remained unclear.
Speaking to reporters, Carper said D.C. statehood had not been one of his priorities when he took over as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee two years ago, but he had come to find it important issue and succeeded in squeezing in time to “have this important discussion.”
Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), left, and Tom Carper (D-Del.) at Monday’s hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee dealing with D.C. statehood. (Aaron Davis/The Washington Post)
In prepared remarks, Carper said his goal was to restart a dialogue about how to afford the District’s 645,000 residents elected representatives to Congress.
D.C. residents “work, study, raise families and start businesses here, just like people do in all 50 states — and they serve in the military,” Carper said, noting that D.C.’s population is larger than the states of Vermont or Wyoming. “Yet when it comes to having a voice in Congress, these men and women really do not count — at least not in the same way.”