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Panels Seek Bigger Budgets for 110th

House committees are proving to be a little more ambitious, at least financially, than their Senate counterparts, according to budget requests submitted to the chambers’ respective administrative panels. With most committees having turned in their requests, House panels are seeking an overall budget boost of 10.7 percent, nearly double the average Senate request of about 5 percent over funding provided during the 109th Congress.

So far, the leaders of 16 House committees had introduced funding resolutions, which cover the panels from January 2007 to January 2009 and include funding requirements for 2007 and 2008. (In most panel requests, funds are split evenly for each year.)

The ethics committee is seeking the biggest increase, a 42.6 percent boost in funds to $6.1 million from $4.3 million two years ago.

But that’s still the lowest request any committee has submitted so far.

The panel that has requested the most money? That honor goes to Oversight and Government Reform, which is seeking an 11.6 percent increase, to $22.9 million from $20.5 million. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has made it clear in recent weeks he intends to increase the level of oversight done by the committee.

Per tradition, the Appropriations Committee writes and approves its own budget. Energy and Commerce, Intelligence, Rules, and House Administration had yet to introduce their budget resolutions as of last week.

A new panel that is expected to study climate change is still being formed and also has not introduced a funding resolution.

Spokesmen for the Energy, House Administration and Rules committees said their funding resolutions should be forthcoming.

House Administration is in charge of approving committee funds and normally holds hearings on requests. The committee has not yet scheduled a hearing on the matter, spokeswoman Janice Crump confirmed Friday.

In the past, the funding resolutions are viewed as “wish lists” for the committees, and the final budgets often are pared down. In 2005, the House panels asked for a 17 percent increase in funding but ended up with 10.1 percent.

The only panel not seeking an increase this session is the House Budget Committee, which is requesting about $12 million. But others asked for fairly significant funding boosts.

Armed Services is seeking $15.5 million, a 20.6 percent increase from the previous session’s $12.8 million. The Homeland Security Committee, meanwhile, requested $16.5 million, a 17.9 percent boost from $14 million two years ago.

But a Homeland Security aide said those numbers are a bit misleading, as the committee is asking for about a 3 percent increase in 2007 from 2006, to $8.1 million from $7.9 million.

That is because in 2005, when the 109th session committee budgets were approved, Homeland Security had just become a permanent panel and required a bit more funding.

On the Senate side, the Rules and Administration Committee will meet Wednesday to hold a markup for the 110th Congress omnibus committee funding resolution, which provides funds for 18 of the chamber’s 20 committees. (The Appropriations and Ethics committee budgets are not included in the bill.)

Most Senate committee budget requests this year kept to guidelines established in January that allowed additional money only for administrative expenses.

Over the course of the 110th Congress, the additional money works out to about a 5 percent increase over the funding provided during the 109th. That increase is primarily to fund cost-of-living adjustments for staffers, provided that such COLAs are approved each fiscal year.

But three Senate committee requests came in above guideline levels. The Foreign Relations Committee is requesting an increase that works out to about 11.8 percent over what it was provided during the 109th Congress; Intelligence, 9.2 percent; Finance, 11.3 percent.

Leaders for each of those committees went before the Rules panel prior to the Presidents Day recess to make their cases.

Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) noted in a joint letter to Rules that they were seeking additional money this year because the size and workload of their committee has expanded and because during the 109th Congress the Rules panel had granted the committee additional money from a special reserve held for such uses. This Congress, Foreign Relations is hoping to have that additional funding be permanently added to its budget so as not to have to dip into the special reserve again.

The Intelligence Committee sought to justify its funding request by pointing out that the COLA provided for high-level staff salaries is not adequate to compete in the marketplace when it comes to attracting, retaining and compensating qualified individuals. The Intelligence panel also is seeking additional funding to replace all of the laptop and workstation devices on the committee’s unclassified network.

Finance is seeking its additional money to fund its subcommittees, which is something the committee did not do until it was mandated by Conference rules during the 109th Congress.

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