In Session
Ben Pershing

As Congress funds itself, winners and losers emerge

World leaders are meeting this week to mull over whether to pursue economic growth or austerity, and Republicans and Democrats in Washington are in the midst of the same debate. But when it comes to funding itself, Congress appears to favor a third option: the status quo.

A House Appropriations subcommittee last week approved its version of the legislative branch spending bill for 2013. At $3.3 billion, the measure is $34 million — or 1 percent — less than this year’s funding level. It does not include money for Senate operations, which that chamber will add in its version.

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Although technically a cut, the package shows that House Republicans are less keen to slash Capitol Hill budgets than they were last year, when the chamber approved a 6 percent reduction for the legislative branch. The Democratic-led Senate is expected to propose spending the same amount or more.

Even with overall funding staying about the same, the House bill would have winners and losers. The winners would include police, librarians and spending watchdogs. The losers would include printers, a foreign exchange program and the Capitol Dome.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), the chairman of the legislative branch subcommittee, said his panel “made tough but workable choices that will allow our agencies to move forward in a responsible manner.”

And Democrats, while criticizing a few items in the measure, did not complain about the overall funding level.

“For the most part . . . this bill has been protected from Ryan budget austerity,” said Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), the appropriations panel’s top Democrat, referring to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.). “Many programs and agencies important to the operations of Congress have been spared from harmful cuts.”

The bill would provide $1.2 billion to cover the main operations of the House, including the personal offices of members as well as committees, leaders and officers. The total matches last year’s allocation, a significant shift, given that Republicans had cut more than 10 percent from the House budget since winning control of the chamber in 2010.

The Capitol Police would get a boost of $20 million, or 6 percent, over last year’s bill, which provided the same amount of funding as the 2011 measure. The budget increase wouldn’t grow the size of the department but would maintain the current authority for 1,775 sworn officers and 370 civilian employees.

The Government Accountability Office’s budget would increase by $8.5 million, or 2 percent, over the 2012 bill. That would be welcome news at the GAO, which faced a $35 million reduction last year, leading to complaints from some that it made little sense to cut back on auditors when federal spending required increased scrutiny.

The Library of Congress also would escape the knife. It would receive a 1 percent funding boost. Last year’s House bill sought to cut the library’s budget by $53 million, and the final compromise with the Senate lopped more than $40 million from library operations.

On the other side of the ledger, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) would face a reduction of $52.5 million — or 11 percent — compared with last year. “Within this funding,” Republicans on the appropriations panel said on release of the bill, “priority is given to projects that protect and promote the safety and health of those who visit and work in the Capitol complex, including deferred maintenance projects.”

But the AOC is also cleaning and restoring the Capitol Dome. Dicks said the House GOP bill “doesn’t provide the funds needed to begin the second and most expensive phase of that effort, but rather cuts significantly below last year’s funding level for the AOC. I’d prefer the dome remain a monument to our nation’s greatness and not become a symbol for shortsighted austerity.”

The Government Printing Office would take a smaller hit of $3.6 million, or 3 percent, as Congress continues its push to put more documents online.

And the Open World Leadership Center, which runs exchange programs for “young leaders” from countries in the former Soviet Union, would see its budget reduced by 90 percent, from $10 million to $1 million. The center was a priority for the late senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a longtime appropriator.

“While I understand there are strong champions of this program,” Crenshaw said, “it is difficult to sustain it within the legislative branch.”

John M. O’Keefe, the executive director of Open World, said the House bill would provide only “enough funds to pay off our bills and then suspend operations.

“This happened last year, and we didn’t know whether they would do it again this year,” he said, noting that in 2012 the money was restored in conference with the Senate. He declined to predict whether that would happen again.

 
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