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John Oliver Reports on D.C. Statehood

Comedian and journalist John Oliver, reminding viewers that he had previously discussed the situation of the U.S. territories, spoke up for Washington, D.C.’s potential statehood on his program Last Week Tonight.

Like Puerto Rico, D.C. has a representative in the House of Representatives who cannot vote. Unlike the people of Puerto Rico, the people of D.C. get to vote in presidential elections. A constitutional amendment in 1964 allowed the city’s residents to vote for the president who lives in their city, and the capital has since 1973 had “limited home rule” which leaves Congress mostly in charge.

D.C. residents must pay federal taxes on their DC-sourced income.  In protest, license plates can carry the slogan “taxation without representation.”  In 2013, President Obama decided to use the protest plates on all presidential limousines, explaining that he had seen “first-hand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress.”

Residents of Puerto Rico must pay payroll (FICA) and other federal taxes, but they do not otherwise file a tax return.  The exemption for federal taxes in Puerto Rico has created a culture of uncertainty for investment, as special tax incentives for U.S. based companies can be taken away as quickly as they are given.  In addition, low-income workers generally do not receive refundable tax credits, resulting in lower take-home pay in Puerto Rico than a state on an identical salary.

To showcase the impact of D.C.’s lack of representation in the Congress that meets within its borders, Oliver pointed out in one example that a Georgia representative was successful in prohibiting needle exchanges in D.C. for many years, even though Georgia had its own needle exchange program.  Once a needle exchange was put into place in the District, public health improved significantly.

“The people of D.C. clearly deserve a greater voice in their own affairs,” Oliver says. However, as Oliver pointed out, the last hearing on statehood for Washington, D.C. — the first in 21 years — was attended by precisely two members of the relevant committee.

Puerto Rico’s status hearings have been better attended, but neither Puerto Rico nor the District of Columbia have U.S. Senators to make their case.

There is a tradition of bringing two states into the union at the same time, as was done most recently with Alaska and Hawaii.

Oliver spoke with a 51-star flag pictured behind him, alerting the audience of the discrepancy only at the end of his report and making the point that the U.S. flag could easily be changed to support another star.

The video above closes with a sassy song sung by a group of children. An organization made up of D.C. parents is planning to get together their own children’s choir to sing the song again on Capitol Hill.

Reminded that the Congress will be in recess, the organizers said, “That’s what YouTube is for!” Oliver’s part in increasing awareness of the unfair positions of D.C., Puerto Rico, and the other island territories has been significant.

4 thoughts on “John Oliver Reports on D.C. Statehood”

  1. This is my suggestion for DC, which is a bit of a different situation from PR.

    Section 1.

    The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States
    shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
    One Senator to serve in the United States Senate and a number of
    Representatives in Congress such that the total number of Senators
    and Representatives from the District is equal to the number of
    electors granted to the District as provided by the twenty-third
    article of amendment.

    Section 2.

    The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

  2. Well in the way the conversations with Cuba and USA representative are going on,and all the Castros’s asking for a confortable establishment of normal relations. I think the money, if any, will be drained off by these new romance.So you as well as Puerto Rico may wait a litle bit longer for your friend glances.

  3. The “Dennis Myers” draft amendment to the U.S. Constitution (above) is EXQUISITELY compatible with the format in which such amendments are customarily composed. The Zealot abstains from supporting or opposing the “Myers Amendment,” but does extend hearty compliments to its superbly literate “chef”!

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