House shares the pain, OKs cutting its own budget

AP News
Posted: Jul 22, 2011 12:56 PM
House shares the pain, OKs cutting its own budget

The House showed Friday that it can share the pain of budget cuts facing federal agencies.

Lawmakers agreed to cut 6.4 percent from what the House will spend next year on members' offices and Capitol Hill operations. Their own salaries, frozen for more than two years, are set in a different piece of legislation and were not affected by Friday's vote.

The measure, which passed 252-159, approves $3.3 billion for the legislative branch in the budget year that begins Oct. 1. That's $227 million less than this year. About 10,000 people work on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, the Florida Republican who heads the Appropriations Committee panel that wrote the bill, said Congress wants "to lead by example" when it is asking the rest of the government to do more with less.

But his Democratic counterpart, Michael Honda of California, said the cuts could mean layoffs for staffers doing everything from answering constituent phone calls to "helping Grandma recover her lost Social Security check."

Except for the Capitol Police, which will keep last year's budget, the austerity program affects most support services, including the Library of Congress and the Architect of the Capitol. It does not apply to Senate offices. The bill is the smallest of 12 appropriations bills Congress must pass every year to fund federal programs.

Among the hardest hit was the Government Printing Office, which is responsible for delivering to member offices every morning the Congressional Record, a printed account of the previous day's House and Senate activities that's the size of a small novel. The original bill provided $113 million, down $22 million from this year, and the House approved an amendment by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., to lop off another $4.9 million.

Stutzman says the government pays $28 million for the Record, which is also available on-line. "It really seems like a subsidy for a magazine that no one really wants to read."

The House also voted to deny funds for distributing printed copies of the Record and to stop distribution of printed legislation to member offices unless a member requests it.

Honda said the cuts will reduce the Library of Congress staff by more than 300, including 50 from the Congressional Research Service, which conducts studies for lawmakers. Each lawmaker's office would lose an average of $88,000, which Honda said would mean letting go two or three staffers.

That comes on top of a 5 percent cut to office budgets that Republicans imposed when they gained the majority in January.

A 2009 study found that the average size of a lawmaker's personal staff, both in Washington and in his or her district, is a little over 17 people.

Specifically, the office of Speaker John Boehner, would receive $6.9 million, down $473,000, the committees would get $152.6 million, down $104 million, and the 435 member offices would receive $574 million, down $39 million. Lawmakers' salaries, which range from $174,000 for rank-and-file members to $223,500 for the Speaker, are not affected.

The Capitol Police receives $340 million, the same as last year, to support 1,775 officers and 370 civilian positions. The House approved an amendment by Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., to add $1 million to improve security for lawmakers in their districts following the shooting this year of Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords.

It rejected a proposal by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to ban spending on polystyrene containers in House food facilities. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduced recyclable materials into the House lunchrooms as part of a greening of the Capitol campaign, but that ended when Republicans took over in January.