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"Inside the Beltway" is a phrase used to characterize parts of the real or imagined American political system. It refers to the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), a beltway that encircles Washington, D.C.marker, and is meant to invoke matters that are important primarily within the offices of the Federal government, its contractors, lobbyists, and the media which cover them.

The term is also employed in a literal, geographic sense in the Washington D.C. area to describe the city and those portions of Virginia and Maryland that are close to the nation's capital. This includes all of Arlington County, Virginiamarker; the city of Falls Church, Virginiamarker; most of the city of Alexandria, Virginiamarker; portions of Montgomery County, Marylandmarker; portions of Prince George's County, Marylandmarker; and portions of Fairfax County, Virginiamarker.

Political phrase

An early use of the phrase can be seen in "The Warren Commission Didn't Know Everything" by Nicholas M. Horrock, The New York Times, October 12, 1975, page 230, which begins:
"In the White House of Richard M.
Nixon, it was said that Watergate would become serious only if it "got outside the Washington Beltway," if the depths of the disgrace were understood by the American people.
In 1974, the truth of Watergate flooded the country, and the Nixon presidency ended.
"It can be said that the myriad doubts about the Warren Commission's findings in the death of President Kennedy represent a reverse situation.
The doubts would never be taken seriously until they were inside the Beltway, in the halls of Congress, the courts and the White House."

The phrase is a form of metonymy. It is sufficiently well known in the U.S. that the mere word "beltway" is used in various combinations for many discussions about national politics, including newspaper columns, television shows, web sites and blogs.

"Westminster Bubble" or "Westminster village" is a term for a similar concept in the United Kingdommarker.

The phrase has also been adopted by New Zealandmarker political commentators. Given that there is no comparable "beltway" around the government buildings in Wellingtonmarker, New Zealand's capital city, this is perhaps a demonstration of the increasing adoption of American political terminology outside of the United States. (The Corngate scandal is another example.)

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