Jan. 25, 2007 — Thanks to a yes vote by one lone Republican and all but one of her Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, Delegate Donna M. Christensen may now vote in the Committee of the Whole.
"It allows the Virgin Islands to have a voice in the legislature that is pending on the floor of the House," Christensen aide Brian Modeste said Thursday.
As an example, Modeste said that a Congressional bill on transportation funding has an impact in the Virgin Islands because the territory gets federal money for some of its projects.
The resolution, which only needed House approval, passed Wednesday on a 226 to 191 vote. Modeste said that Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi was the lone Democrat to vote no. Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana broke ranks with his Republican colleagues to vote yes.
Modeste said former Delegate Ron deLugo had the same privilege in 1993 and 1994, but it was taken away when the Republicans came to power.
Christensen can already vote in the committees where she holds membership.
While the delegates may now vote in the Committee of the Whole, Modeste said if their vote is the deciding vote on an amendment, the full House must then vote on it.
He said amended bills go first to the Rules Committee and then to the Committee of the Whole before moving on to the full House.
Approval of the resolution to give delegates from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam , American Samoa and Washington, D.C. the vote in the committee came with a five-hour contentious debate.
"It made those from the territories feel like they weren't full Americans," Modeste said.
Another U.S. territory, the Northern Marianas, doesn't have a delegate.
Christensen said in a news release that she took to the floor on three separate occasions to support the resolution. She said she mentioned the recent sacrifice paid by members of the V.I. National Guard and their families in asserting the rights of the territories to increased representation in the Congress.
"I am forced to ask on their behalf and on behalf of all of the people of the Virgin Islands who have sent our loved ones to every war from the Revolutionary to this, in higher per capita numbers than most states, why is it that some would seek to deny us an even limited vote in the Committee of the Whole in this body?" Christensen said.
Christensen countered Republican charges that territorial delegates do not pay taxes and should not therefore be afforded the vote.
"When my Republican colleagues bring up the question of payment of taxes, they know well that residents of the territories pay federal taxes," she said. "We pay full Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes like every other American. We also pay the same federal income tax as proscribed by the tax laws that are passed here and which I can't vote on."
Christensen also pointed out that because income taxes stay in the territory, it doesn't get the full benefit of all federal programs.
"We receive less than a quarter of the federal share of the program that we would receive if we were able to fully participate in the program," she said.
Christensen and her Democratic colleagues also challenged Republican statements that said that giving the votes to delegates was unconstitutional.
"It does not violate the Constitution," she said. "We should be given this greater degree of participation in the formulation of the laws that affect the lives of the people who sent us here to represent them."
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