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The U.S. Capitol is seen Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Washington. The push for statehood for the District of Columbia is seeing traction, both in the halls of Congress and the alleyways of Twitter, writes Brian Ericson, with some rather bizarre arguments and counterarguments on both sides.

Alan Fram, Associated Press

Should D.C. be a state? Both sides have a compelling argument

And this Georgia congressman’s solution inadvertently reveals a larger problem

SHARE Should D.C. be a state? Both sides have a compelling argument
SHARE Should D.C. be a state? Both sides have a compelling argument

This week, the push for statehood for the District of Columbia is seeing traction, both in the halls of Congress and the alleyways of Twitter. While those both for and against the movement put forward some rather bizarre arguments and counterarguments, at the root of each side are compelling, seemingly at-odds ideals. But though there may be a solution that addresses both ideals, neither Republicans or Democrats are likely to pursue it.

On Monday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the matter, in which Heritage Foundation legal fellow Zack Smith addressed concerns that D.C. residents aren’t fairly represented in Congress by claiming that they “already impact the national debate” when they put up yard signs, which lawmakers drive past. This and other eyebrow-raising claims rose from those against D.C. statehood, but their core argument was most concisely summarized by a viral tweet from South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds: “The Founding Fathers never intended for Washington D.C. to be a state.”

Once the tweet blew up, Rounds’ critics made some equally questionable claims, suggesting that the framers’ intentions must no longer be relevant because they never intended places like South Dakota to become states — considering they died before the idea was even on the table. This, of course, is another ridiculous claim: Since the Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution the procedure by which new states could be admitted to the union, they obviously conceived of statehood for places like South Dakota.

What they explicitly did not intend, however, was statehood for the seat of government. James Madison wrote in “Federalist” No. 43 that “a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy.”

Put another way, the national capitol must be distinct from any state, both so that it does not depend on any one state for its security and so that federal officials are not unduly influenced by one state over all the others. These are good reasons against statehood that remain sound today.

However, those advocating for D.C. statehood have an equally compelling argument: that the Founding Fathers never intended “taxation without representation.” Residents of D.C. currently pay federal taxes, but they are short the three voting representatives of Congress afforded to every other American who does likewise. This long-standing oversight seems to be a good reason for statehood.

How does one reconcile these two mutually exclusive intentions of the framers? How can we avoid a “dishonorable” seat of government while ensuring those who live there aren’t taxed “without representation”?

One possible answer came on Monday from GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia freshman who made a simple proposal during an exchange with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser: Exempt D.C. residents from federal taxes.

Bowser’s objection? “Well, I’m not aware of a bill before Congress that would take away billions of dollars from the federal treasury.”

They’re both onto something. Clyde’s idea works: Exempting D.C. from federal taxes would render the district as something like a U.S. territory (Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.), where residents are U.S. citizens but don’t pay taxes because they’re represented only by nonvoting delegates in Congress. (In fact, the district would be even better represented than such territories because it is already afforded votes in presidential elections.) Under such a system — which ought to be coupled with more local control for a district currently too subject to the powers of Congress — the sovereignty and distinction of the national capital would be maintained and its residents would not be taxed without representation.

Though there may be a solution that addresses both ideals, neither Republicans or Democrats are likely to pursue it.

Yet Bowser has a point, too: If Republicans were really serious about honoring the framers’ intentions, such a bill would actually be on the table. The fact that it’s not is telling. After all, for all Republicans’ talk about shrinking government and cutting taxes, who wants to give up billions of dollars in revenue? Certainly not the GOP’s most recent leader, the supposed “true conservative” whose spending ballooned the national debt (even before the pandemic) and who twice suspended the debt ceiling altogether.

No, at the end of the day, it’s all about power: Republicans want to forestall the two safe Senate seats that D.C. statehood would give Democrats without addressing the injustice of the district’s taxation. Democrats like Bowser, meanwhile, reject commonsense, middle-ground proposals like Clyde’s because they want those two Senate seats.

If Clyde isn’t just putting on rhetorical theatre and is serious about this solution, he should introduce it as a bill in Congress, and his caucus should be prepared to tighten Washington’s already oversized belt to offset the lost revenue.

Until then, the issue of D.C. statehood will continue to divide a deeply fractured nation — a nation waiting for its leaders to have the political courage to meet in the middle.