WASHINGTON – American Somoa has the highest per capita casualty rate of any U.S. state or territory in the war in Iraq,but its delegate cannot vote in Congress. Eni Faleomavaega wants to change that.
Faleomavaega,a Democrat,is in his 10th term representing American Samoa in the House of Representatives. As an elected delegate,he is sworn in like every other representative and allowed to serve on committees. But,unlike other members of Congress,when the time comes to vote,Faleomavaega can only stand by.
Faleomavaega is one of four delegates from U.S. territories,who although they do not pay federal income taxes,are allowed to have a small voice in the workings of their country's government.
“By and large,many members don't even know we exist,” Faleomavaega said. “Give us a chance to represent our people … allow us to participate in our democracy.”
Like the territories,D.C. citizens also do not have a vote in Congress. They elect a non-voting delegate. But unlike the territories,D.C. citizens pay federal income tax,a grievance that runs high. The motto on D.C. license plates reads “Taxation without representation.”
A resolution coming to the House floor Wednesday seeks to change that. The proposed changed to House rules would allow delegates to vote when a measure is being voted on by the “committee of the whole,” a procedure used when the House debates and amends a bill before going to a final vote. The proposal also states that if a measure were to pass on a narrow margin,the full House would vote again without the delegates' participation.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton,D-D.C.,is backing other legislation that would give the District full voting rights,making her like any other representative.
The rule to be voted on Wednesday would not be new to the House. It was used in 1993 and 1994 when the Democrats were last in control,but was abandoned in 1995 when Republicans came to power.
Republicans worry that the U.S. territories would essentially be receiving “representation without taxation,” Rep. Pete Sessions,R-Texas,said Tuesday at the Rules Committee meeting. Because three of the four territorial delegates are Democrats,the party could use the extra votes to its advantage,allowing it to pass more legislation,including a tax increase,he said.
“This is not just about representation,” Sessions said. “I am concerned that this is another opportunity for the majority party to add votes to their total.”
Democrats insisted that would not be the case. With the revote provision for any bill with a margin of less than five votes,the delegates' votes would not be binding. Their votes would be largely symbolic,said Rep. James McGovern,D-Mass.
“We know full well our vote doesn't really count,but at least symbolically we will be able to represent our people,” Faleomavaega said during the meeting.
Guam,the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are the other territories without full voting rights in Congress.
For Delegate Madeleine Bordallo,D-Guam,the symbolism is all that matters.
“It is a terrible,left out feeling,” she said.