There is no better way to learn the differences between the House and the Senate than by examining the details of how each body spends its money.
The fiscal 1991 appropriations bills of both houses contain items that give hints of their priorities -- even though there seems to be no pattern to the differences.
Take new communications techniques.
The House has put in $130,000 for a videoconferencing demonstration project in conjunction with the General Accounting Office. The project would allow members to hold hearings in Washington, but hear witnesses from around the country.
The Senate is intrigued with televising its committee hearings on Capitol Hill's congressional cable system when C-SPAN or the networks don't. The Senate bill provides funds for six new employees for the Senate recording and TV studio to handle the closed-circuit telecasts at an added cost of $300,000. In addition, there is $75,000 for equipment associated with these closed-circuit telecasts.
Each body has been studying major new construction projects.
The House has been looking at a $10 million printing and mailing facility to be built near Bolling Air Force Base. But new franking, or free postage, rules voted last Sunday may limit the once explosive growth of House mailings. As a result, the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch deferred construction and asked that a bipartisan task force be appointed to study whether some less costly facility could be developed, perhaps within the Capitol Hill complex.
The Senate's big project has been a $10 million reconstruction of the subway that runs the less than half-mile between the Capitol and the Dirksen and Hart office buildings. Last year the first $3 million was provided and this year $6 million was included. As a precautionary measure, this money cannot be spent until Sept. 30, 1991, and then only if the Appropriations panel is assured that full funding is available before a construction contract is awarded.
The Senate, which for years has been buying modern modular furniture for members' offices, plans another $1 million in such spending this year.
The House, on the other hand, has never tried modular furniture and struck a $500,000 experiment that was in its fiscal 1991 spending bill.
Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who succeeded in stripping the provision, argued that a switch to modular furniture would eventually cost about $22 million and that the modernistic pieces have no place in older House office buildings, such as the Cannon building.
But some of the Senate modular furniture is headed for the Russell Office Building, built at the same time and in the same style as Cannon.
Then there is the question of how much is being spent by whom.
By tradition, each body makes up its own budget request, normally placing that job in the hands of its top officers -- such as the clerk of the House, secretary of the Senate and sergeants-at-arms of both chambers.
Neither the president nor his Office of Management and Budget has authority to review or comment on the budget requests of the legislative branch.
The House Appropriations Committee report on the bill even notes that "by law" the president sends the measure to Congress in his budget "without change in the amounts submitted by the originating agency."
Yet the Senate Appropriations Committee refers to the request formulated by its own employees as the "president's budget" and contends its current spending bill is $179,761,500 "below the president's budget."