House negotiators last week relented on their demand that Congress hold the line on any additional spending to fund the Capitol Visitor Center and allotted an extra $48 million to complete the project.
House and Senate appropriators agreed to a $3.5 billion spending bill for the legislative branch Wednesday afternoon and paved the way for the first-ever Capitol Police horseback unit.
The fiscal 2004 appropriations bill, which includes an additional $940 million in emergency spending, amounts to a 2.4 percent increase from current spending levels for the legislative branch.
Despite House efforts to rein in funding for the Capitol Visitor Center — the chamber included no new funds for the project in its version of the bill — conferees agreed to provide the Architect of the Capitol with the additional funds the General Accounting Office estimated would be needed to complete the project as planned.
The $48 million is not all new funds, however. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) noted during the conference that a portion of the additional CVC monies, about $12 million, were taken from nonobligated funds already appropriated to the Architect’s office in previous fiscal years. After the conference, Kingston said that $12 million came from money slotted for the Capitol Police headquarters.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking member of the Appropriations panel and a staunch opponent of the visitor center, insisted there would be no future cash infusions beyond the $48 million for the 580,000-square-foot subterranean project, previously budgeted at $373.5 million.
Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman “would make a grave mistake if he thinks he’s going to get more money out of this committee,” Obey said.
The conference’s most spirited debate centered on the construction of a tunnel that will connect the visitor center to the Library of Congress.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, sponsored an amendment to cut funding for the tunnel entirely, referring to the extension as “more convenience than necessity.”
Despite unanimous approval by House conferees, the Senate declined the amendment, with several lawmakers asserting the tunnel would shore up the Capitol’s security planning.
“The additional egress provided by the tunnel could be a life-saving measure for all of us,” said Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah).
Eventually, conferees agreed to an amendment sponsored by Obey to cap spending on the tunnel at $10 million. Pounding the table during discussion of the amendment, Obey declared: “There isn’t going to be one dime more appropriated for this tunnel.”
Kingston, the only Member to vote against the $10 million limit, had sought to reduce that number to $7.9 million, a revised figure listed by GAO in a Sept. 12 letter to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). In the letter GAO estimates showed a 90 percent probability the tunnel will be competed for less than $9.4 million.
Members agreed an exception could be made to the limit, however, if Congress determines additional funds are needed for classified security measures.
Even a spending limit may not actually have the intended effect, noted Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill), if the CVC contractor is not required to sign a new contract agreeing to those conditions.
“If you’re unwilling to transfer risk to the contractor, your words have no effect,” Kirk said.
The Architect’s office — which received a total of $342 million in the spending bill, a $50 million decrease from the office’s fiscal 2003 funding — will also not receive funds for any new construction projects.
House Members and Senators compromised on funding for the Capitol Police Department in the bill, cutting the law enforcement agency’s financing to $221 million from its current $240 million budget, and significantly below the $275.5 million it had requested. The Senate came into the conference with a figure of $240 million for the police, the House $212 million.
The allocation, Stevens said, will finance 1,569 sworn officers and provide an additional 75 civilian employees to the 227 now employed by the department. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has previously said the department would reach 1,569 officers by this fall.
Despite the cuts, lawmakers did agree to fund a new mounted six-horse division, something for which Campbell has been a staunch advocate. “I’m determined they’re going to get that,” Campbell said prior to the conference.
The bill also allocates funds for the operations of both House and Senate offices, totaling $1 billion and $718 million, respectively.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) called the House numbers, an increase over last year’s $960 million, “tight but sufficient.”
The Appropriations panels also increased budgets for both the General Accounting Office and the Government Printing Office.
The printing agency will receive will receive an additional $17 million, bringing its budget to $136 million and GAO will get a $7 million bump to $460 million.
The Library of Congress, which had sought $540 million in net appropriations, will get $526 million, a $23 million increase from its current budget.