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Begich Introduces D.C. Autonomy Bills

Begich followed through with a promise made at his 52nd birthday party to help D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Begich followed through with a promise made at his 52nd birthday party to help D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark Begich kept his birthday party promise to D.C. Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, introducing two bills on Thursday that, if passed, would result in greater autonomy for the District of Columbia.  

Strauss called the Alaska Democrat a “man of his word,” in an interview with CQ Roll Call, referring to Begich’s promise to introduce legislation in early April that would grant D.C. budget and legislative autonomy from Congress.  

The D.C. Budget Accountability Act would amend the Home Rule Act to eliminate the District’s obligation to have its budget approved by Congress before it is implemented. It would also permit the city to set its own fiscal calendar. The “District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act” is a companion bill to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s January proposal to scrap the congressional review period for civil and criminal legislation passed by the District.  

Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, said in a release that the bills will bring “some much-needed common sense to the relationship between Congress and the District’s government.”  

Both bills are co-sponsored by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., who plays an important role in oversight of the District and has come out in support of D.C. statehood. Carper says District residents and businesses “shouldn’t have to suffer when Congress can’t work together, or because outdated laws prevent it from responding quickly and effectively to local needs.”  

Carper’s support could help the legislation move forward in the Senate, though prospects in the House appear less positive. Norton’s paperwork reduction bill has no co-sponsors.  

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif, sponsor of a D.C. budget autonomy bill, told CQ Roll Call earlier this week that he would still like to move “bipartisan, bicameral reforms,” but proponents should keep “in mind that the appropriations solution has gone a long way towards giving them what they need.”

Issa indicated he is working on a solution “that might make it easier for them to pass legislation themselves without the need for emergency legislation,” but his first priority relating to D.C. is passage of Height Act amendments.

Introduction of the bills marked the second triumph for Norton on Thursday, who earlier celebrated the fact that her “nemesis” Stephen Colbert was tapped to replace David Letterman on CBS, potentially bringing prime time exposure to the District’s longtime fight for self-determination.

“Momentum for greater autonomy for the District is clearly building,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry in a statement. “The introduction of these bills — along with the implementation of the District’s local budget autonomy law — demonstrates progress in our fight for equal rights. It is encouraging to have allies in Congress like Senator Begich who understand that federal micromanagement of the District is not only unjust, but also needlessly complicated and expensive.”

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