The District of Columbia, which has a bigger population than two states and contributes more to federal tax coffers than many more, is due to receive significantly less money than any state in the emergency coronavirus relief bill moving through Congress.
The Senate approved the $2 trillion measure in a unanimous 96-0 vote late Wednesday. The House is expected to pass it without making changes on Friday, sending it to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
The bill provides more than $100 billion to states and localities to reduce the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But it lumps the District ― which pays federal taxes ― in with U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, that do not. The distinction means Washington would receive only about $500 million in aid, unlike all 50 states that will receive a minimum of $1.25 billion.
Democrats condemned the provision, accusing Republicans of being behind it.
“Republican negotiators insisted on shortchanging residents who pay more taxes than people in 22 states. Shameful,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the move “discriminatory” and said she wanted future legislation to deliver more funding to the nation’s capital.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” she said at a Thursday press conference.
“The very idea that we are being treated like a territory is shocking, it’s infuriating, and it’s simply outrageous,” Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted. “We are NOT a territory. D.C. pays the highest taxes per capita in the nation, and we have a population larger than those of several states.”
The District, which in a 2019 Census Bureau estimate had a population of more than 705,000, is almost always treated as a state by the federal government when it comes to other grants, such as highway funding, education dollars and food assistance, according to The Washington Post.
But the coronavirus funding is only the latest chapter in Republican-led efforts to stiff the city’s residents, who receive no federal voting representation despite paying taxes.
Because Congress must review and approve any measure passed by the local government under a 1973 law, GOP lawmakers have been able to block several measures approved by District voters, including those dealing with recreational marijuana use, gun control and abortion rights.
The system has often resulted in the District being used as a bargaining chip in congressional negotiations over the federal budget, even though its residents do not have a voting representative to fight on their behalf.
Congress first met in the District in November 1800, the same month that John Adams occupied the White House as president. District residents, however, did not gain the right to vote in presidential elections until the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1961.
The District did not gain “home rule” ― the right to elect a mayor and city council ― until the early 1970s. Efforts are launched periodically to grant it statehood, but Republicans consistently help block such efforts, given that the city’s heavily Democratic tilt presumably would mean its two senators and one House member would come from that party.
Don Frederick contributed reporting.
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