George Will

"The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states ..." -- Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 2.

"What's the Constitution between friends?" -- Rep. Timothy Campbell, a Tammany Democrat, to Democratic President Grover Cleveland after Cleveland said that a bill Campbell favored was unconstitutional.

WASHINGTON -- There they go again. House Democrats should at least provide variety in their venality. Last Wednesday, fresh from legislating new ethics regarding relations with lobbyists, they demonstrated that there are worse forms of corruption than those involving martinis and money.

They again voted to give the delegates to the House from Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico, the right to vote in the House when it is sitting as the "Committee of the Whole," which is how it sits almost all the time. It is in that status that almost all debate about and amending of legislation occur.

If these five votes decide the outcome of a vote in the Committee of the Whole, the matter at issue will be automatically revoted by the full House without those five participating. Still, these five faux members will have powers equal to those of real members on everything but final passage of bills, which often is more perfunctory than the process that leads to that. Almost always, all five delegates are Democrats. (Puerto Rico's current resident commissioner is the first Republican in 100 years.)

What part of the words "several states" do House Democrats not understand? Their cynical assumption is that "the people of the several states" will not notice this dilution of their representation in the House.

Members of Congress today represent, on average, 687,000 people. The population of Guam is 171,000; of American Samoa, 58,000; and of the Virgin Islands, 109,000. The 3.9 million Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and have the right to vote for statehood, which they have rejected in three plebiscites (1967, 1993, 1998).

The 58,000 Samoans pay no federal income taxes, but their delegate will be able to participate in raising the taxes of, say, Montanans. Samoa's delegate will have virtually the same power as Rep. Denny Rehberg, who represents all 944,000 Montanans. Obviously the Democrats' reverence for the principle "one person, one vote" is, well, situational.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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