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Senate OKs $3.8B Legislative Branch Bill

The Senate approved a $3.8 billion legislative branch spending bill Thursday, increasing spending on Congressional support agencies by $230 million.

The measure would provide a 6 percent increase over current spending levels, but still falls well below the combined $4.03 billion legislative branch agencies had requested in their budget proposals.

Senators debated the bill briefly, before agreeing to the measure by unanimous consent.

Under the legislation, the Senate would receive $785 million for its own operations, an 8 percent increase over fiscal 2005 spending.

That figure includes an allocation of $80,000 to allow the Secretary of Senate to conduct an employment study that would examine pay rates, hiring and benefits practices, as well as general employment trends in the chamber.

The Senate bill also provides $430,000 to fund the Mississippi-based Stennis Center for Public Service, which provides educational programs to Congressional staff.

The House earlier approved its version of the spending bill, which by tradition does not include Senate funds, providing $2.86 billion for legislative branch activities.

Among the key differences in the bills that House and Senate lawmakers will address in conference committee are funds for the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.

While the Senate bill would provide the law enforcement agency with a 9.5 percent increase to $264.6 million, the House version would decrease the department’s budget to $240 million in fiscal 2006. The police receive $241 million in funding this year.

House lawmakers also approved a provision that would eliminate the Capitol Police mounted unit and transfer its horses and supplies to the U.S. Park Police, while the Senate bill includes funds for the program.

Both chambers declined to provide the AOC its full $506 million request, which would have marked a $157 million increase over its current budget. The House bill, which does not include $67 million in funds for Senate buildings, would provide the Architect $317 million in the coming fiscal year, while the Senate version allocates $427 million.

In addition to funding levels, lawmakers must also address a provision on the continuity of Congress included in the House version of the legislation.

House appropriators, at the request of the chamber’s leadership, included legislation originally sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that would expedite special elections in the event of mass casualties in the chamber.

The Senate Appropriations panel voted to strike the provision, however, asserting that more time is needed to review the proposal.

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