The House yesterday approved sweeping new rules to limit members' spending on franked mail and voted funding cuts that endanger pay raises for House members' own office staff.
In an occasionally tumultuous six-hour session, members cut $76 million from the $1.7 billion legislative branch appropriations measure before passing it on a vote of 292 to 117. The measure funds operations of the House and other congressional agencies, including the Library of Congress, General Accounting Office and Government Printing Office. A companion bill, set for debate in the Senate today, also funds the Senate.
The last of the reductions cut a flat 2 percent -- or $34 million -- from the bill. Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations legislative branch subcommittee and floor manager of the bill, described the cut as "self-flagellation." Earlier in the debate, Fazio had supported lesser reductions in hopes of avoiding this
But with congressional elections just 16 days off and anti-incumbent sentiment said to be rising among voters, the across-the-board cut -- offered by Rep. Timothy J. Penny (D-Minn.) -- was approved 248 to 161, with 92 Democrats deserting their party leadership.
Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) proposed that next year's $330 million executive branch budget, which funds the White House and several small agencies, be reduced by the same percentage. The proposal, however, was ruled out of order.
The far-reaching changes in mailing privileges will allow all House members to use up to $178,000 in postage a year, require each member's mailing expenses to be published each quarter and empower the postmaster general to keep track of each member's mailings so that if the allowance is used up, mass mailings will be halted.
In addition, the measure requires all mailings of over 500 similar pieces to be reviewed by the House Franking Commission.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking minority member of Fazio's subcommittee, called the franking changes the "most significant
development in the legislative branch in the 10 years I have been here."
Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), ranking minority member of the House Administration Committee and one of the Republican leaders in seeking changes in the advantages that incumbents enjoy, said he looked on the franking rules as "a first step in changes in campaign financing."
The legislative funding measure also authorizes an increase in each member's "clerk-hire" allowance next year, but a $16 million cut that the House made yesterday in that appropriation, matched with the Penny amendment's 2 percent cut, will make it all but impossible to actually give any pay raises. The issue is sensitive because House members' salaries are scheduled to go up from $96,600 to $125,100 next January.
The day's bitterest debate concerned a proposal by Rep. Harris W. Fawell (R-Ill.) to cut $375,000 earmarked for renovating the House Beauty Salon. Although Fawell insisted he was only trying reduce spending and insisted he had his own hair cut at the facility, he was immediately accused of targeting a women's establishment and exempting the House barbershop, which costs the taxpayers far more each year.
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) called the Fawell amendment "sexism." Subsequent heated exchanges disclosed that House barbers receive salaries averaging $24,000 from House funds while the beauty parlor operators earn all their income -- roughly $12,000 per year -- from customers.
Fawell's amendment was overwhelmingly defeated by voice vote.