With little fanfare, the House is preparing to vote on a bipartisan plan to boost spending for members' offices by 7.3 percent in the coming election year, even as Republicans plan other bills cutting funds for education, aid to veterans and other popular domestic programs.
Some conservatives are angered by the proposal, which also would increase funds for House leaders and most committees and finance improvements to a cafeteria, a fountain and other facilities. They say budget-cutting lawmakers should lead by example and restrain their own spending.
"It's totally inappropriate, the increased spending," said Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who with other conservatives stalled work on a farm bill last month that they considered too expensive.
Coburn and others say they may try to block the measure when it reaches the House floor. That could give House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) his newest headache in a year when the Republicans' thin majority has made it tough to move much through the chamber.
But the conservatives face a tough task cracking the broad bipartisan support traditionally drawn by the annual bill financing Congress's operations. Most incumbents of both parties, eager for the electoral advantages the measure would provide, are likely to support this bill, say GOP and Democratic aides speaking on condition of anonymity.
Underlining the likelihood of an accord, Kori Hardin, spokeswoman to Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), said Democrats support the staff pay raise the bill would permit, "but we completely recognize the hypocrisy of the Republican position."
Her reference was to GOP plans, opposed by Democrats, to produce spending bills that would honor budget limits and reduce funding for most federal agencies. Obey is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Defenders of the bill say that though spending directly affecting members would go up, cuts in the office of the Capitol architect and other accounts would bring the overall price tag to $1.92 billion, 6 percent less than this year's $2.05 billion. The figures exclude Senate expenses, which that chamber adds later.
Conservatives say the comparison is phony. They say that when one-time emergency spending for 1999 for Capitol security and other items is subtracted, next year's bill would be nearly $100 million, or 5 percent, higher.
In the provision most directly affecting lawmakers, the bill would increase funding for House members' office accounts from $385.3 million this year to $413.6 million next year. The account covers staff salaries, official travel and other expenses, but not members' salaries, which appear likely to remain at $136,673.
The measure also would allow unlimited spending on taxpayer-paid mail to the constituents of House members. The bill assumes a $17 million increase -- to $29 million -- in the account that allows members to respond to letters and send mass mailings to constituents.