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House OKs Legislative Branch Spending

The House approved the fiscal 2008 legislative branch appropriations bill on Friday afternoon, a day after the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the spending measure.

When they are finally combined, the two bills likely will grant close to $4 billion to the two chambers of Congress and nine legislative branch agencies.

Despite a Republican-led motion to recommit, the House bill passed by a vote of 216-176. But with Senate floor action on its version not expected to take place until sometime after the July Fourth recess, a conference on the two bills is still a while off.

Of the 23 amendments to the bill filed with the House Rules Committee last week, three were ruled in order and debated on the House floor on Friday. Two were eventually adopted, including an amendment offered by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to reduce the number of copies of the Congressional Record printed by the Government Printing Office by cutting $3.2 million from the GPO’s printing and binding fund. Flake’s amendment garnered 37 Democratic votes. The second amendment added to the bill would ensure that all light bulbs purchased for the Capitol complex are certified as energy efficient.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offered a third amendment, which was defeated, seeking a 4 percent across-the-board reduction in legislative branch funding.

In offering his motion to recommit, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) wanted struck from the bill language that would allow Congress to move forward with building new committee office space in the old Food and Drug Administration building just off Capitol Hill. Kingston has called the project unnecessary and a misuse of $16 million in funding that could be better used elsewhere.

Meanwhile, House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) took to the floor Friday to protest language in the report that he says “infringes on the jurisdiction” of his committee. Ehlers specifically pointed to language dealing with the management of House contracts and directives for several studies to be completed on aspects of House operations such as disability access and food services.

“There’s an emerging pattern where the report language is being used to create administrative policy,” Ehlers said. “I want to ensure our good working relationship with the [legislative branch] subcommittee and that our jurisdiction will be honored.”

Ehlers speech on the floor represented the second time a committee has claimed the House legislative branch bill has overstepped its jurisdiction this fiscal cycle.

During the markup of the spending bill, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) took issue with an amendment offered by Reps. Jessie Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) to change the name of the Capitol Visitor Center’s Great Hall to Emancipation Hall.

Oberstar noted in a letter discussed during the markup that naming issues in public buildings should be taken up by his panel’s subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management.

The Wamp-Jackson amendment was eventually included in the appropriations bill anyway and several Members took to the House floor on Friday to praise the name change.

Meanwhile the name Emancipation Hall is catching fire on the Senate side. While specific wording on the change was not included in the Senate’s legislative branch appropriations bill, Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, and Barack Obama (Ill.) introduced a stand-alone bill to make such a change.

Opponents argue that it is too late in the construction of the CVC, which has been criticized for being behind schedule and over budget, to make the change. Such an alteration has been estimated to cost an additional $250,000 since Great Hall signage already has been made.

At the Senate Appropriations markup last week, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), ranking member of the legislative branch subcommittee, said “it simply is too late to make those sorts of changes. Let’s not add to the project’s costs with these late changes.”

Allard’s disagreement on the name issue was one of the few areas where he and Landrieu took opposite positions during the markup.

Like the House bill, the Senate legislative branch measure prioritizes security and safety issues in its funding scheme.

Landrieu said last week she was particularly happy to include language in the Senate version to finalize the stalled merger between the Capitol Police and Library of Congress Police within the next two years.

Both bills also include several provisions to reduce the “carbon footprint” of the Capitol complex to operate the legislative branch in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Several millions of dollars are devoted in the House bill to begin implementing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new Green the Capitol Initiative. The Senate bill directs the Architect of the Capitol to develop a comprehensive plan for reducing carbon emissions from Capitol operations and to study the use of new carbon-capture technologies.