WASHINGTON — Facing the issue for the first time, the House on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a bill to grant statehood to the District of Columbia and to give its 600,000 residents voting representation in both the House and Senate. The vote was 277 to 153.
Although statehood advocates expected to lose, they said the sizable vote for the bill was a significant first step on a long road to give Washington's citizens political equality with other Americans.
Congressional leaders also cleared the way Sunday for approval today of the Brady bill, which would impose a five-day waiting period for handgun buyers, and of another measure to extend jobless payments for 1 million workers who have exhausted their basic 26-week state benefit.
Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said he expects the House to end its business late today or sometime Tuesday and adjourn for the year. The Senate scheduled a session for this afternoon to wrap up its business and quit until 1994.
Democratic leaders and a majority of their party in the House favored making the District of Columbia the 51st state--to be called New Columbia. All but one Republican and a substantial Democratic minority were strongly opposed.
Since Washington has voted strongly Democratic in recent presidential elections, it is widely expected that it would elect two Democratic senators and a Democratic member of the House if it became a state.
In all, 151 Democrats, 1 Republican and 1 independent voted for statehood. A total of 172 Republicans and 105 Democrats voted no.
"The question before us today is one of fundamental fairness," argued House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). "Should Americans who live in this 70-square-mile area enjoy the same benefits of citizenship as all other Americans? . . . The answer is a resounding 'yes.' "
But opponents contended that it would be unconstitutional to change Washington's status as the seat of government, under congressional control, without amending the Constitution.
And some opponents charged that Washington would not be able to support itself without substantial federal assistance.
"The District, a liberal bastion of corruption and crime, doesn't even come close" to meeting statehood requirements, said Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "We ought to take back control of the city and clean it up."
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) contended that if financially troubled Washington became a state, it would impose a stiff payroll tax on residents of nearby Virginia and Maryland who work for the federal government.
"They would take hundreds of millions of dollars from suburbanites to help the state of New Columbia," said Moran, who represents a nearby area in Virginia where many federal employees live.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, however, said that residents of Washington now pay one of the highest per capita tax rates in the nation, raising $3 billion a year locally, and deserve representation in Congress.
Under the bill, the part of Washington stretching between the White House and the Capitol, which includes most major federal buildings, would remain the seat of government and not be within the new state.
California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) recalled that Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly recently asked President Clinton to authorize the D.C. National Guard to help police high-crime areas.
"You can't ask for federal troops to come and patrol your streets one week and ask for statehood the next," Rohrabacher said.
In other actions, the House:
* Voted 428 to 0 to require the minting of new coins commemorating American prisoners of war, the 10th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Women in Military Service Memorial and the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth.
* Approved a bill designed to stop the spread of an illegal drug known as "CAT" by restricting the amount of ephedrine, a key ingredient, that can be sold over the counter or through the mail without a prescription. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), is expected to be passed today by the Senate.