Sixteen Senators have joined together in a bipartisan manner to insist that when the chamber takes up the emergency supplemental spending legislation for a second time, moms and dads who work in the Senate are guaranteed some support.
In a May 3 letter to Approprations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the Senators ask that language be included in the bill to allow the Secretary of the Senate to transfer proceeds generated from the chamber’s sale of holiday ornaments to the Senate Employees’ Child Care Center.
Similar language was included in the Iraq supplemental bill that President Bush recently vetoed. A House vote on a new supplemental bill is expected today, and the Senate is in the midst of preparing its own legislation.
In the letter, drafted by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the 16 Senators write that the center is an important institution for Senate staffers and the chamber should make sure it is supported.
“The SECCC annual budget is funded almost entirely by parents’ tuition, due to the fact that Senate employees are prohibited from soliciting gifts on behalf of the Center,” the letter reads. “We respectively request your support in maintaining this long-standing and worthwhile effort to assist the SECCC in its ability to continue to provide superior, affordable child care services for Senate families.”
Appropriations spokesman John Bray said Wednesday that it is unclear if the language will be included in the final bill.
“Sen. Byrd is very sympathetic, but at this point it is too early to speculate,” Bray said.
A Cochran spokeswoman echoed those comments, saying that while it is possible the language will be put into the new supplemental, no final decision has been made.
“It’s certainly an issue that we are aware of,” the spokeswoman said.
Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson, said an aide, “is hopeful the language will be [included] in the supplemental.”
A Inouye spokesman said there is broad bipartisan support for including the provision in the bill, pointing to the range of lawmakers who signed it, from Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and John Kerry (Mass.) to Republicans such as Sens. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas).
“This is just authorizing language,” Inouye spokesman Mike Yuen added. “It is not the appropriation of any money.”
About 70 children ranging in age from infants to pre-kindergartners are enrolled at the center, which is considered a model for early education programs.
The center has benefited from the annual holiday sale since 1992, when Senate spouses created the ornaments, according to the letter. When the Senate Stationery Room and Senate Gift Shop set up different operations, the latter worked out an informal arrangement to guarantee a portion of the ornament sales still would go to the center.
In 2006, the Government Accountability Office recommended that more transparency and accountability be included in the process. And at first it appeared a solution wouldn’t be hard to come by.
Language to give the Secretary transfer authority originally was included in the 2006 legislative branch appropriations bill, Yuen said. But that failed to pass, and when the continuing resolution went through instead, the language was left out.
So, language to amend the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1993 to allow the Secretary to transfer the funds was put in the first Iraq supplemental bill. That bill was vetoed by Bush last week.
“The child care center has just been caught in this bind,” Yuen said.
In past decades, the center held fundraising drives, which attracted lobbyists and others as a way to gain influence on Capitol Hill. Today, however, 90 percent of the center’s funds come from tuition fees.
In 2006, the center took in $956,552 in revenue, and $828,000 of that came from tuition. The money generated from the sale of the holiday ornaments amounted to about $40,000, or 4 percent of the total revenues, and went specifically to fund scholarships, educational activities and equipment.
But it’s an important 4 percent. If the authorizing language fails to pass by the end of the year, Senate employees who enroll their children at the center could find themselves paying more in fees, Yuen said.
Alternatively, the center could use a big chunk of its capital reserves to cover the difference in revenue, Yuen added.
The 16 Senators want to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“The SECCC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization governed primarily by parents who work for the U.S. Senate. It serves as a model for parents and employers interested in working together to solve their childcare needs. … We respectfully request your support for maintaining this long-standing and worthwhile effort,” their letter reads.