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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/opinion/07wed3.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

EDITORIAL

January 7, 2009

America’s Colonial Capital

Like millions of other people around the world, the citizens of Washington are eagerly awaiting President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony later this month. The ceremony carries extra meaning in the nation’s capital, where voters are counting on Mr. Obama to end the humiliating second-class citizenship that Congress has inflicted on the city for more than 200 years.

Washingtonians sometimes refer to their city as “the last colony.” Congress has refused to give their Congressional representative full voting rights. Congress also wields great power over the city’s legislative and budgetary affairs — even dictating how local tax revenues are spent — denying its citizens the rights to self-government that the rest of Americans take for granted.

Republican Congressional majorities have exploited this authority to score ideological points and inflict narrow policies on an overwhelmingly Democratic city. For nearly a decade, for instance, the House forbid the city from using its own tax dollars to give drug addicts access to clean needles — even though needle-exchange programs have been shown to slow the spread of AIDS the world over. The needle ban was overturned by a Democratic majority in the House in 2007, but only after lives were needlessly lost and the infection rate had spiraled out of control.

Congress also has made efficient government impossible. By insisting on final approval for all local laws, Congress forces the city to rely on temporary measures, creating what Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s representative in the House, calls a “legislative nightmare.”

As a senator, Mr. Obama supported a bill that would have given the district’s Congressional representative full voting rights. The bill, which passed the House but succumbed to a Senate filibuster, has been reintroduced. It deserves prompt approval in both houses and Mr. Obama’s swift signature.

But it will take more than a single empowered representative to give Washington the self-government it deserves. Congress also must give the city budgetary and legislative autonomy. Only then will the citizens of the “last colony” become full-fledged Americans.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 7, 2009, on page A26 of the New York edition.

 
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