Congressional deal making has entered a bizarre new chapter. It is now standard operating procedure for unrelated non-fiduciary legislation to pass as part of larger budget bills. 

Headlining this new frontier is the recent repeal of key provisions from Dodd-Frank. The GOP was able to push through a Citigroup-written revision to the 2010 finance bill using the ticking clock and prospect of a shutdown as leverage. 


This has led to predictable blowback. While well intentioned an unfortunate side effect of this outcry is the smokescreen it provides for other injustices written into the bill. Perhaps foremost, residents of our nation’s capital will once more face an unjust affront to their civil liberties. 

To provide some background, Washington, D.C. recently voted on a referendum that would allow adults aged 21 and over to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana. Individuals could also grow up to six plants at home. 

The referendum passed. 64.87 percent of registered voters supported the measure. 

The debate surrounding legalization of the drug is complex and contentious. But let’s set that aside. There is a separate conversation to be had here. 

It took Congress one month to intercede and strike this referendum down. 

To quote the precise language, the bill “prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District." 

In other words, hidden away among the stipulations of a $1 trillion spending package is language overruling an outcome of the democratic process. 

The move brings up a telling contradiction. 

Residents of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state all voted to legalize. These laws are still in effect. In the opinion of most, it is a state’s right issue. It is not the place of federal legislators to intervene. 

But for the people of Washington, D.C., big brother steps in.   

Unfortunately, this will not surprise many. To use the Jeffersonian vernacular, this is but one in a long train of abuses. 

Among other actions, Congress decides the federal taxes that D.C. residents pay. 

Congress decides when enlisted D.C. residents go to war.   

Yet, this is the case across the country. Where things differ is that if you live in our nation’s capital you have no say in any of it. 

Wyoming and Vermont are each accorded one representative and two senators under the Constitution. The states have populations of 582,658 and 626,630 respectively. 

Washington D.C. carries a larger figure than both. But the law affords it no senators and just one representative. And that House seat is largely ceremonial, a vote cast does not count in the Congressional record.  

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. But the major problem is that the city has little to no political leverage. 

In 2012, 91 percent of D.C. voted to re-elect President Obama. That proportion is consistent with a longstanding trend. The unfortunate outcome of such a highly partisan electorate is that neither party has a large electoral incentive to act. 

Democrats would be needlessly burning political capital by enhancing the rights of D.C. residents. There is no need to curry favor among a group that already provides overwhelming support. 

Meanwhile, the GOP has no interest in gifting uncontested seats to the opposition. 

And so the status quo persists with scant hint of change on the horizon. 

That is why the decision made in the budget bill is so deplorable. If anything, the status quo is actually deteriorating. 

The people of D.C. were using one of the last semi-autonomous instruments left to them by voting via a referendum.  

It took about a month for Congress to assert their authority once more and take that from them. 

In a recent hearing, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said that Congress should not be meddling in local D.C. affairs. He stated that those who were so inclined should run for its city council. 

His colleagues apparently disagree. 

Congress has been broken for sometime. That much is well documented. The 113th has been the least productive in history in terms of legislative activity. 

But they may have outdone themselves this time. 

It takes a certain audacity, and perhaps even a startling lack of empathy to flippantly suppress the basic civil liberties of 650,000 people just to get an unrelated law passed. 

The rights of those Americans should matter. Equality should matter. 

At some point, moral imperatives should supercede electoral calculation. And budgets bills should pass without any infringement on voting rights coming into question. 

But for now they do not. 

Lucadamo is the lead policy analyst at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. The views expressed here are not affiliated with any organization.