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Analysis: Despite New GAO Ruling, D.C. Finds New Ally For Autonomy In Congress

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Proponents of greater autonomy for the District have suffered a setback, as the federal Government Accountability Office announced that the budget autonomy referendum approved by D.C. voters last April has no legal effect. But as David Hawkings — who writes the Hawking Here column for CQ Roll Call — explains to WAMU's Matt McCleskey, advocates may have gained some crucial support for their cause on Capitol Hill despite the GAO ruling.

Roll Call is reporting that Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) has come out in support of D.C. Budget Autonomy. How significant is his endorsement? And why do you think he would announce his support right as the GAO ruling comes out?

"He is important for a couple reasons. One, he is one of only a handful of senators who came to the Senate after being a mayor of a relatively big city, so people come to him for advice on big city stuff. Even more important, he is on both of the committees in the Senate that have sway over the District. He's actually the chairman of the subcommittee that sets D.C. policy. It's a subcommittee of the Homeland Security committee. And he's also a member of the Appropriations Committee, which actually has to vet the District's budget."

"So he actually came out and announced this yesterday. He had a hearing by coincidence scheduled last Thursday, and my colleague Hannah Hess was there, and it took some D.C. activists by happy surprise. But still a long way to go, there are still Republicans in an election year who won't want to get involved in this minor matter."

When can we expect Congress to pick this up?

"The answer would be, since Sen. Begich would have the ability to get a rider put into one of the appropriations bills this year, the earliest outcome would be a one-year pause in this because appropriations bills only set policy for one year at a time. That might happen, but more than that, a long shot."

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